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The Big Fresh October 25, 2014 Learning Spaces

Brenda Power

Memories aren't stored in the head or the heart or even the soul, but in the spaces between any two people.

                                                             Jodi Picoult

I had the privilege of collaborating with a literacy coach recently. At the end of several days together we were chatting about what we noticed and next steps. Heidi, the instructional coach, summed up her observations by noting that in my coaching and teaching I "create spaces for learning." I have not been able to stop thinking about these words since she shared them with me.

When I asked her to explain what she meant she added, "I notice you tend to begin by modeling something, setting up a situation, asking a question or sharing an observation. Then you back off and leave the learner, whether it be a teacher or a student, the space to practice, reflect, and think."  She continued, "This space is important because it allows the learner to make sense of what they are doing and gives the teacher an opportunity to observe, assess and understand where the learner is in the process. It makes the process more authentic to both the learner and the teacher. The learner is more prominent in the instructional process - it feels more productive and respectful."

I love this idea of "creating space for learning." It provokes an image for me that includes time, response, differentiation and openness.  Space can be defined in terms of the physical area and in terms of freedom. Space gives room to make decisions, change direction, affirm or reject. Space is something I realize I need in order to learn and maybe that is why I offer it when I teach.

I don't think I was making a conscious decision in creating space, but now that I am thinking more about it I do realize this is how I learn. I need to think about things for a long time before I can own them. I take time when I am driving, running or writing to create space for me to ponder new ideas. I am not someone who can read or hear something and then immediately champion the idea. I need to understand it in relation to my beliefs as an educator. I need to question the research, consider the point of view of the author and talk out my ideas with colleagues. Space gives me the time and freedom to do this thinking and to make connections between what I know to be true and new ideas.

Space sends a message to the learner - I am inviting you in and I want you here. I am thankful to Heidi who pushed my thinking by sharing her observations with me.   Now that she has pointed it out I want to hold myself accountable to it. In the words of Maya Angelou, "Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better."

This week we look at peers supporting each other in classrooms. Plus more as always -- enjoy!

Clare Landrigan

Contributor, Choice Literacy

Clare Landrigan founded Teachers for Teachers with Tammy Mulligan. She spends her days helping educators from New England and beyond do the hard, thoughtful, and rewarding work of improving schools for young readers and writers. You can read their latest thinking at their Perspectives blog.


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Ann Marie Corgill has suggestions for Building Peer Conferring Skills in the Primary Grades in this article from the archives:


Mix It Up at Lunch Day from Teaching Tolerance is celebrated this week on October 29. It's a wonderful way to build new connections, respect, and friendships among children and adults:


Pernille Ripp has excellent tips for How to Make Your Anti-Rewards Philosophy Fit in a Pro-Rewards School:


Last chance to join Franki Sibberson for the Text Complexity in Grades 3-5: Minilessons, Nonfiction Text Sets, and Independent Reading online course October 29 - November 9.  The course includes three on-demand webinars, a DVD, Franki's book The Joy of Planning, and personal response from Franki tailored to your needs on the class discussion board. Click on the link below for details:

The new online course Supporting Teachers in Writing Workshops: A Course for Literacy Coaches with Ruth Ayres runs November 7-18. The focus is on conferring, record-keeping, and helping teachers at their point of need. Click on the link below for more details:



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Megan Ginther found she was spending too much time responding to student writing, and just as important, taking on too much of the responsibility for improvement. She tackled the issue by developing a new program for Peer Evaluation of Student Writing:


Some of our students lead such hard lives. Christy Rush-Levine explores The Weight of Stories, and how teachers can keep from being dragged into the undertow of the most difficult situations children face:


In this week's video, Katie DiCesare leads a first-grade Partner Share among her first graders:


It's impossible to master all the new technology resources available in classrooms, and fortunately we don't have to. Katherine Sokolowski enlists Peers as Tech Experts in her fifth-grade classroom:


In an encore video, Tony Keefer is Lifting the Quality of Peer Response with his fourth-grade students:


That's all for this week!

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Brenda Power

Brenda Power is the founder of Choice Literacy. She worked for many years as a professor at the University of Maine and an editor at Stenhouse Publishers. Her publications as an author include Living the Questions and The Art of Classroom Inquiry. She has worked as a book editor and video producer for many of the authors featured at this site.