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The Big Fresh October 27, 2018 Stretching

Brenda Power

A mind that is stretched by experience can never go back to its comfortable old dimensions.

                                                                                      Oliver Wendell Holmes

When to stretch? If you work out, you know there is a debate about whether it’s best to stretch before or after exercise. It turns out that is a trick question, since the answer is neither. It’s not that a good stretch can’t be beneficial at any time, but the best time to stretch is after 5-10 minutes of light activity. Your blood is pumping, your muscles are warmed up, and the stretch will do you the most good.

I remember a few years ago filming Aimee Buckner in a Maine classroom and how she limbered up for her work. She was visiting for demonstration lessons and conferring with kids in fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms. We gathered the children in the meeting area in the first classroom and Aimee took a seat.

While we set up the cameras, I was fascinated to watch Aimee. She bantered with the students, and somehow in less than ten minutes managed to learn every student’s name, laughing as they quizzed her and volleyed nicknames. It was a warm-up, a time for students to get comfortable with her. Implicitly, she was honoring each one before she would call on them during the read aloud and discussion. And Aimee was also stretching herself -- most teachers would be happy to know their students’ names at the end of the first day of school, not within minutes. Within that lighthearted scene was energy and concentration.

Stretching is all about extending your reach -- to go just a bit further than you did a moment or week ago. But it can also be a little painful. It’s worth it because it leaves you stronger -- more flexible and resilient. Watching Aimee, I realized the best classes I’ve taught with adults had a lot of warm-up time built in -- time to chat while everyone arrived, time to linger after most of the participants rushed out the door to get back to their classrooms or head home.

Outsiders might not realize that the light and easy feeling in classrooms as students arrive is purposeful. We spend all day asking everyone in schools to stretch -- to grow beyond where they were in their thinking and abilities yesterday. So it matters more than ever that kids have real transition time to chat while they browse books when they first enter the classroom, to share crayons and stories of home all in a comfortable jumble as they ease into writing workshops.

If you don’t stretch, you risk doing some damage that might set you back for days or weeks. That’s why we push ourselves to slow down in classrooms, even when it feels like everyone is telling us to hurry up. Aimee took a seat, and chatted with those children like she had all the time in the world. Because she knew and so did they that she would soon be challenging them to think hard about words on a page and grow in their thinking, with a new teacher and a bunch of strangers pointing cameras at them. That’s a stretch for any 10-year-old. And I know I grew and learned from watching her prepare to teach.

This week we look at what constitutes evidence -- from teachers poring over assessment data to students making claims for texts. Plus more as always -- enjoy!

Brenda Power
Founder, Choice Literacy


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Heather Rader shares her experiences working with a teacher team led by an outspoken leader. With listening and support, the team examines evidence in a new way:


What makes a book award-worthy? Bitsy Parks finds building excitement for book awards works in tandem with generating enthusiasm for reading in her first-grade classroom. Fall is a great time to begin the hunt for winter's award winners:


This Pinterest board includes dozens of examples of anchor charts for text evidence:


Check out our new online courses for teachers and literacy coaches! In the next month we're featuring 12-day self-paced classes from Katherine Sokolowski on student research projects in grades 3-7, Christy Rush-Levine on quick and meaningful reading conferences in middle school, and Jennifer Schwanke on better outreach to families. Courses include three-month trial memberships to Choice Literacy and Lead Literacy, screencasts, videos, articles, and personal responses from the instructor to your questions. Explore detailed descriptions at this link:



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Gretchen Schroeder finds just telling her high school class to include textual evidence when making points and arming them with sticky notes leaves many students bewildered. She regroups and comes up with activities to scaffold their understanding of what makes for valid evidence:


Suzy Kaback finds the task of creating readers' guides helps students in the intermediate grades think about evidence in texts in more sophisticated ways:


In this week's video, Christy Ruth-Levine leads a small group of eighth graders as they explore how to include textual evidence in their literary analysis essays:


In this encore video from a fifth-grade small group, Clare Landrigan talks with students about making predictions and finding evidence in texts:


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.