Sunday, March 12, 2017


We often teach students to concentrate on small moments in their writing.  We emphasize how important and deep little details can be, asking them to delve deeper into that snippet in time.  What we don’t always realize as teachers is that we also need to concentrate on those small moments in our classrooms.

Our educational landscape is currently filled with data ranging from standardized tests to running records to reading levels.  All of these measures give us some interesting and at times valid information about our students.  However, it is the daily, careful observation of children, in those small moments, that can have the biggest impact.  As Dr. Mary Howard says, “I saw students as informative guides I could trust to point me in the right direction.  They were my lesson plans waiting to be written as long as I could notice the signposts along the way and respond accordingly” (Howard, 2012, p. 49).

At the end of the week  Susie had the opportunity to visit Justin’s class where it is clear that students feel empowered.  Justin presented a short mini lesson about revision and trying to use more powerful words in writing.  When the students came back at the end of the lesson Justin asked the students to give examples of the word they originally used and the word they substituted.  After a few examples, Kyle, a striving reader and writer (thank you Kylene Beers for this term!), wanted to place his writing under the Elmo for all to see.  Kyle proceeded to have trouble reading his own writing.  In that small moment, Justin seized an opportunity, informed by Kyle.  He asked the rest of the class to turn and talk while he and Kyle practiced reading his writing.  After a few minutes, Kyle and Justin together read both Kyle’s original sentence and the revised sentence. “I still didn’t know where we were going to.” was changed to “I still didn’t know where we were rushing to.”

Justin helped him to shine as a learner and a thinker even though he has difficulty with the basics of reading and writing.  Justin turned that moment into a big opportunity.  He used this nugget to assess and then change the course of his lesson.  As Pernille Ripp says in her wonderful book, Passionate Learners, “Even the smallest changes can make monumental differences” (2016, p.xviii).

Another example of a quick observation that led to a subtle but powerful change comes from an intervention classroom in a public school in NYC.  Nick, a striving 3rd grade reader, burst into the room and declared, “Let’s make lists about what helps you become a better reader and what doesn’t!” The teacher had a choice.  Choosing to embrace the small moment, she set aside her lesson plans and let Nick lead the way. Nick started his list that will continue to grow as he grows as a reader.  He spent the next 20 minutes avidly reading his book.  The information that Nick wanted to know wouldn’t have come out in a running record or a standardized test.  It came from listening to the small moment.

While more formal types of formative assessments have a place in education, the small moments, if carefully observed by teachers, lead to a more personalized and powerful learning.  These nuggets help the teacher meet the needs of each and every student who shows up....

In each small moment.

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