Flipped Learning: Supporting Students in Writing Workshop

Juliette flipped learning

When we work with educators who want to begin flipping lessons in their writing workshops, we regularly address major misconceptions about flipped learning. For example, we’ve been asked, “Isn’t flipped learning about students watching videos while teachers escape from doing any work?” We want teachers, administrators, parents, and students to know this is absolutely false!

Flipped learning isn’t about teaching less; it’s about students doing more!

Recently, Dana tweeted the following: “I don’t flip lessons so that I can teach less. I flip lessons so that my students can do more!” Flipped learning is not a replacement for the work that happens in the classroom during writing workshop. Teachers are irreplaceable. We play a critical role in helping students to develop as writers. Students need face-to-face interactions with teachers who listen to their struggles, celebrate their accomplishments, model new strategies, demonstrate powerful writing moves with mentor texts, and a plethora of other essential teaching that enables students to flourish as writers. Our students need us. We are their cheerleader, confidant, and counsel. Flipped lessons enhance the workshop by making it possible for students to move confidently through the writing process with support from their teacher at every turn.

Flipped learning isn’t about students watching videos; it’s about students accessing instruction.

Even though most of us could not function on a daily basis without assistance from technology, a negative association is at times made when we see students in front of computers, particularly in the classroom. The image of this can evoke fear. Fear that our students aren’t really learning; that they’re just passive viewers. Another misconception about flipped learning, because it involves students using technology, is that it results in watered-down instruction. Flipped learning isn’t about students watching videos; it’s about students accessing instruction. This instruction has been deliberately and carefully designed to help students excel academically. Delivering this instruction via technology acknowledges and honors the way many of our students enjoy learning. Technology is an indelible part of our students’ lives and therefore, should be part of the classroom. When students access flipped lessons they are not passive learners; they are working with a specific purpose in mind and are held accountable for the instruction provided in these lessons. Writer’s notebooks, exit/entrance tickets, and writing conferences are some of the ways students can demonstrate what they’ve learned and the steps they plan to take next.

ILA2016 is rapidly approaching! Dana and I are excited to learn from and alongside so many dedicated educators across the country and beyond. We are also excited to have the opportunity to discuss our thoughts about flipped learning and to converse with a global circle of educators who have ideas and questions about flipped learning, too.


Flipped Learning and The Home/School Connection

Have you ever had one of those days in writing workshop where you practiced a strategy with students and then sent them home to continue writing for homework? In your mind, all students seemed settled and confident about what to do. But instead, you receive 5 emails from parents stating otherwise. “My child didn’t understand what s/he was supposed to do for homework.” And 5 more students return to school the next morning stating the same.

As teachers, we know how essential it is to establish a strong home/school connection with parents and guardians. Our partnerships with parents is critical to students’ progress as learners. Parents want to support the learning that happens in their child’s classroom. When this connection is fractured, parents can feel helpless and frustrated. In previous posts, we’ve discussed four compelling reasons to flip lessons in writing workshop: Individualization, Efficiency, Engagement, and Small Group Instruction. Another powerful reason is: The Home/School Connection.

Example #1: Recently, I had a student who was performing in a Broadway production and had to miss several weeks of school. My student and his parents desperately wanted to maintain a connection to our classroom and to the curriculum. Flipping lessons in writing workshop helped my student to access instruction during his absence and complete assignments on time. For students who have been absent from school or need additional guidance to complete homework, flipped lessons can save the day. Flipping lessons in writing workshop results in fewer emails from parents stating, “My child didn’t know what to do” or “My child was stuck” or “My child was absent.”

Example #2: Along with everything else we juggle on a daily basis, teachers are also responsible for students who are pulled out of classrooms for music lessons, support services, etc. Some of my students are English Language Learners. It can cause great anxiety for students when they miss instruction or when they don’t understand it the first time. They worry that they will fall behind. It is incredibly helpful when students can return to class and access a flipped lesson that covers the instruction they’ve missed. Flipping lessons helps my students when they need to be out of the classroom, or when they just need more time to process instruction.

Flipped learning isn’t just for homework. It is accessible, individualized learning that can happen in the classroom. Flipped learning can help to strengthen the home/school connection by making what’s happening in the classroom transparent to parents.

We hope we’ve piqued your interest in trying to flip a lesson or two in your writing workshop, and we look forward to hearing about how it’s going!


Flipping Without Flipping Out (part 3)

ch 5 Bella

Yesterday, Dana and I celebrated the publication of our second book: Flip Your Writing Workshop: A Blended Learning Approach. We are enthusiastic about sharing with you the ways that flipped learning has been instrumental in our writing workshops.

In previous blogs, we’ve discussed two of the major reasons we’ve turned to flipped learning in our writing workshops: Individualization and Efficiency. Today we’d like to spotlight another reason: Engagement.

At the TCRWP Digital Learning Day, Heidi Hayes Jacobs asked, “What pedagogy best serves engagement?” This is a question Dana and I have asked ourselves over the years as we strive to reach every learner in our classrooms. Patty Vitalle-Reily explains that, “Engagement is the act of being invested in learning. Engaged learners are passionate, hardy, persistent, thoughtful, committed, and connected to their work” (Engaging Every Learner: Classroom Principles, Strategies, and Tools – Heinemann, 2015). It has been our experience that flipped learning is such pedagogy that motivates students to become active participants in their own learning, demonstrating greater independence and agency in the learning process.

Example #1 – How many of us have had students exclaim during our writing workshops, “I’m done! What do I do next?” Taking a flipped learning approach in our writing workshops results in students never having to ask this question. As teachers create flipped lessons in anticipation of the various needs of our classrooms, students access these lessons and move seamlessly throughout the writing process from generating ideas to publication. If, for example, five students are ready to move on to editing when the rest of the class isn’t, this is no longer a problem. A flipped lesson on capitalization or tense agreement can help students move on to the editing process when they’re ready.

Example #2 – When we have students who are stuck on a particular step during the writing process, we can help them to demonstrate persistence with flipped lessons. Students can work with their teacher during a conference or in a small group, and they can continue practicing a strategy at home using a flipped lesson. They can even review the lesson in class the next day if needed. In this way, teachers can emphasize the importance of perseverance while students make use of the support they need to make progress.

One of the key factors of engagement in classrooms in 2016 is technology. Students are using devices regularly outside of school as part of their daily lives. If we want to engage students and create enthusiasm in the classroom  about curriculum, a blended learning approach is essential. For these reasons and more, we’ve turned to flipped learning and have been thrilled by the difference it has made in our writing workshops.

Next week we’ll reveal our #4 and #5 reasons for flipping lessons in our writing workshops!


Flipping Without Flipping Out (part 2)

Ch 4 pic 1

Dana and I are so excited about our new book that is available this week! Flip your Writing Workshop: A Blended Learning Approach is a result of two years of researching, collaborating, and trying out lots of flipped lessons in our classroom. Honestly, sometimes our attempts fell flat. These were the times that we grew the most as educators. We learned a great deal about what works and what doesn’t. We learned that like any approach to learning, flipping learning requires planning and thoughtfulness to be successful. Our book outlines this path for teachers in a user-friendly way.

Recently, we revealed our #1 reason for flipping lessons in our writing workshop: INDIVIDUALIZED LEARNING. Today, let’s continue with reason #2: EFFICIENCY.

Teachers are the busiest people on the planet! Dana and I can’t tell you how many times we’ve thought (and exclaimed to each other!), “If I could just clone myself, imagine what I could accomplish!” Writing lessons spiral. We expect and accept this wholeheartedly. Yet, this can be time-consuming and frustrating. It can halt our curriculum and our students. Flipped learning can greatly improve the efficiency of our writing workshops. Flipped lessons are a way to essentially clone ourselves; we really can teach more and  reach more students!

Example #1: Do you find yourself repeating the same lesson from unit to unit; month to month? Have you ever thought, “If I have to repeat this dialogue rules (or capitalization rules, or generating ideas, etc.) lesson one more time…!” Flipped learning can help! Try flipping that lesson you find yourself repeating again and again. Students can access it when they need it, which frees you to teach a new mini lesson or confer with students. Writing workshop is not about all students moving in lockstep. Flipped learning enhances writing workshop as a variety of different learning is happening all at once.

Example #2: Lots of planning goes into our writing workshops. We enter our classrooms with ideas about whom we’d like to conference with, which mini lesson we’d like to teach, and the mentor text we’d like to share. And of course, we want the bulk of our workshop time to be used for students to actually write! However, even the most organized teacher and her plan can be easily derailed. One student doesn’t have a clear path for moving forward and isn’t writing. Another is ready to move on to trying a flashback and needs to know how. Flipped lessons can help us juggle all of the different needs of our students so that they can get down to the business of writing!

Like other buzzwords in the field of education, there can be misconceptions about flipped learning. One such misconception is that teachers who flip lessons simply flip it and forget it! This just isn’t true! Rich, iterative assessment takes place to monitor and guide student learning. Flipped learning does not replace the teacher; it helps teachers manage the gloriously chaotic nature of our writing workshop.

When we use flipped lessons in the writing workshop, we really can clone ourselves to provide differentiation and address a wide variety of needs. Tomorrow, we’ll talk about the third reason we’ve embraced flipped learning in our blended learning writing workshops.



Flipped Lessons for Poetry

Today, Dana and I had the privilege of attending TCRWP’s 2nd Annual Digital Learning Day! It was truly an honor to be in the presence of such incredible educators and to present on flipped learning in writing workshop.

In honor of National Poetry Month, the following is a flipped lesson my students use to help them edit and prepare their poems for publishing. I shared this flipped lesson today during our presentation. Flipped lessons can be used in the classroom as well as at home. They are an invaluable resource that helps students access instruction when they need it, and they can help make your writing workshop more engaging and efficient. Throughout my poetry unit, I flipped lessons on line breaks and white space, personification, similes & metaphors, and punctuation.

When preparing a flipped lesson in writing workshop, be sure to include these tips for elementary and middle school students in particular:

  • Let students know what materials they need to have. They can pause the lesson to gather them if needed.
  • State 1 to 3 clear objectives. Inform students what they should be able to do as a result of this lesson.
  • Provide clear instruction for students to learn.
  • Make your lesson interactive. This can be as simple as asking students to answer specific questions, to working on a specific piece of writing, to accessing a link to a website to continue instruction.
  • Keep the lesson short! All roads should lead to writing and this is what students should spend the majority of their time doing.
  • Follow up with students in class to assess how they were able to apply instruction and to address any questions they might have.

Try flipping a lesson for your poetry unit and continue to enjoy poetry during the rest of this month and beyond!

Identifying The Main Idea

shattered lives

In an earlier post I shared my reflections about launching a nonfiction unit with my 6th graders. One of texts I’m currently using in this unit is a narrative nonfiction article from Scholastic titled Shattered Lives by Kristin Lewis.

This article helps middle school students learn about The Syrian Crisis from the perspective of a child, who along with her family and countless others, are refugees displaced by war. There are numerous reasons to return to this article again and again throughout my unit. Teaching and reviewing nonfiction features and structures are major reasons as this article offers opportunities for rich instruction in these areas.

The main way I’m using this article early in my unit, is to help students identify the main idea and support their thinking with details from the text. There are many terms used synonymously with the term main idea. This can be problematic for students who can become confused thinking that perhaps they’re being asked different things.  For example, while I teach students the difference between topic and main idea, sometimes these terms are interchangeable in texts and on exams. What I want my students to recognize is that all of these terms are asking students to think about the most important point an author is communicating to us in the writing. To make this process less murky for my students, I’ve created this graphic to demonstrate the sometimes-nebulous nature of the term main idea.

main idea

I decided to start this article with students in small, guided-reading groups. I modeled for students how to read nonfiction slower, in sections, and then to pause to monitor for meaning. The following chart helped me to assess students’ progress determining the main idea of a section, identifying details that connect to the main idea, and asking questions that would propel them forward as readers. Great resources for charts like this can be found in Jen Serravallo’s The Reading Strategies Book.

nonfiction main idea chart

Finally, as a result of reading A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park alongside of Shattered Lives by Kirsten Lewis, we made a list of subtopics that relate to these readings. We plan to use these subtopics, as well as others, to flex our researcher muscles and further investigate topics of interest. In this way, we will continue to cultivate our love of nonfiction!



Make Read Alouds Electrifying Experiences

A classroom read aloud can be an electrifying experience for students… or utter torture.

The ear, eye and the arm

For my daughter, it was the later when she was in 6th grade. The Ear, Eye, and Arm by Nancy Farmer was the read aloud in her Language Arts classroom that dragged across three months, essentially strangling the life out of any pleasure to be gained from the experience.

Lately, I’ve been reflecting about class read alouds, particularly novels. It started when over the course of one week, two of my colleagues came to my classroom to borrow books: Out Of My Mind by Sharon Draper and The Giver by Lois Lowry. Of course, I was thrilled to loan them these fantastic reads. But I was puzzled. One of my colleagues is an 8th grade science teacher, and the other teaches 8th grade algebra. They explained that these books were not for their classes, but instead for their own children. Both teachers had the same problem: Their child’s classroom teacher was stretching a class read aloud across several months and their children were dying to keep reading! Their children were so frustrated by how long it was taking to finish the class read aloud that they begged their mothers to get them their own copy!

I have to admit. When I first started teaching, I was THAT teacher. The one who maybe read “a chapter a day” which meant a class read aloud could take multiple weeks. The one who thought reading instruction was about “teaching books.” “I teach The Watson’s Go To Birmingham, 1963,” I might have said to a colleague.

I’m happy to report that I am a reformed read-alouder who understands that stretching a book out across a lengthy amount of time sucks the joy out of reading for students. We may have the best intentions in mind: to share a wonderful story with our students. But let’s just think about it. We select a fantastic book. We’ve got our students right where we want them: on the edges of their seats ready to devour this great story. And then, we rob them from the excitement of the story by dragging it out across weeks or months????

Here are a few things to consider about a read aloud:

  • Teach reading, not “a book.” There are so many wonderful books to introduce to and share with our students. But we are teachers of reading and our students need to develop strategies and skills that go far beyond any one book or story. One of the most important strategies we want to teach our students is how to fall deeply in love with reading. Shouldn’t this be our number one priority with a read aloud?
  • Select one or two strategies to teach and one or two skills to practice. Perhaps it’s a genre specific strategy so that students understand the unique elements of a genre and can apply this to their independent reading. Or maybe you want to help students strengthen their predicting skills. Think about which strategies and skills can be spotlighted with a particular read aloud.
  • Finish the read aloud in a week…two at the most! Yes, this will require setting aside time to accomplish this, but it’s worth it! Our students need to know that reading too slowly, not just reading too quickly, can compromise comprehension. When so much time passes, the specific details can slip away from our memories. Read alouds should happen frequently across the year in the classroom. Therefore, we don’t need to put all of our “eggs” into any one book as if it will be the only opportunity for a shared reading experience. Multiple read alouds, whether they are chapter books, picture books, digital texts, articles, or poems means multiple opportunities to teach reading strategies and to bolster the skills students need to become accomplished readers.

The excitement students have during a read aloud they love is precious and powerful; it’s like catching lightning in a bottle. When teachers capture this it can be used to demonstrate the electrifying experience of reading.

Sonja Cherry-Paul loves reading aloud to her 6th graders. Nothing is better than hearing the chorus of “No! Please read more! Don’t stop! she gets when she tells her class it’s time to go. Sonja is a member of the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award Committee. She has been immersed in reading wonderful books created by authors and illustrators who address themes related to social justice. The best part of this process is sharing these incredible books with her 6th graders and the insightful conversations they spark.  She is co-author of Teaching Interpretation: Using Text-Based Evidence to Construct Meaning and Flip Your Writing Workshop: A Blended Learning Approach. 

Help Students Navigate Our Digital Landscape

I love using this video with my 6th graders to introduce the topic of validity as they navigate our digital landscape. It helps to debunk their belief that everything they find online is true.

Our students are spending increasing amounts of time online to complete assignments. To help students develop as researchers and readers of digital texts, it’s important that they can distinguish some key features on a website that can demonstrate its trustworthiness.

So how can students tell if a website is credible? Here are six indicators that experts suggest students pay attention to in order to determine credibility.

Author – Is there a name provided or is there a veil of anonymity?

Date    – How recent has the site been updated?

Sources – Does the author provide where her/his information comes from? Are other sources used or does the author position her/himself as the expert? If so, what qualities this author to be an expert?

Type of Site – Is it a blog, run by an individual, not necessarily an expert? Or is it an online periodical like NYtimes.com?

Site Design – An organized, attractive site indicates time and care.

Writing Style – Are there mechanical errors? Is there a professional or casual tone to the writing?

In addition to students developing the skills they’ll need to determine the validity of digital texts and sources, it is essential that they understand what it means to be good digital citizens. As we celebrate digital learning this week and in the weeks ahead, an emphasis on safety is key.  This includes which sites students can visit, who students are permitted to correspond with, and teaching students to communicate respectfully. Developing clear ground rules that are reviewed routinely and posted can help students participate responsibly as digital learners.


Cultivating A Love of Nonfiction

What I love most about teaching nonfiction is the endless possibilities this genre provides for my students. Prior to launching my official nonfiction unit with my 6th graders, I take stock of the knowledge students bring with them to our classroom and the work we’ve done as readers and writers of nonfiction so far. And, I think about my hopes for the work we’ll accomplish together.

This year, I’ve been thinking a great deal about the ways preparation for state testing, and the state test themselves, can rob students from learning to love nonfiction. I feel such sadness for teachers who are forced by administration to present nonfiction as dry, lifeless work that is simply a pathway to answering questions on a test. But mostly, I’m sad for students forced to endure this torture, each day, as many schools believe that nonfiction must dominate reading experiences in the classroom and high interest nonfiction books are rarities.

My goal is simple. I want to cultivate a love of nonfiction within each and every one of my students. I want my students to be investigators who use nonfiction as a tool to discover the stories in and of our lives.

Here’s my plan for this year.

Anchor Text

We’ll be A Long Walk To Waterreading A Long Walk To Water by Linda Sue Park. This unique story blends both fiction and nonfiction. I’ve found this work to be incredibly compelling to students. They are drawn in by the fictional character, Nya, and the real person Salva. A Long Walk To Water will help to spotlight my theme of nonfiction being the stories in and of our lives. As we read, students will keep their reader’s notebook at hand to jot down the big ideas and questions this novel should spark.


Tracking Big Ideas & Questions

We’ll generate ideas about the topics and subtopics associated with A Long Walk To Water. We’ll chart our ideas and write details about what we’re learning and we’ll include our questions. I find that students enjoy wearing their researcher hats when teachers emphasize the importance of questions. Making our questions public is a way of validating them and encouraging even more. After scouring Jen Serravallo’s The Reading Strategies Book, I have ideas about how I’d like my chart to look. I’ll share it once it’s up and running!


Building a Text Set

shattered lives

We’ll also read three texts in addition to A Long Walk To Water.  Shattered Lives, is a 2015 Scholastic article about The Syrian Refugee Crisis. It is an important text to pair with A Long Walk To Water as it offers another perspective about what it means to be a refugee. It helps students to understand that this is a global issue that impacts all of us. Another text I’ll use is Water Runs Through This Book by Nancy Bo Flood. (I know right? A book about water by an author named Flood! How cool is that??) This is a high interest, gorgeous book with photography by Jan Sonnenmair. It includes facts, details, charts, maps, poetry, quotes and more. It will help my students understand the importance of water in our daily lives. I will be reading a page or two of this book aloud to students each day until we finish.

water runs through this book

This digital text is essential to share with students as it demonstrates the challenges American citizens are experiencing to obtain clean water.  This 3-minute video clip about the Flint, Michigan Water Crisis can help students to understand that while clean water seems ubiquitous in their lives, people are struggling to obtain this resource right here in our own country.


Creating a Digital Bin

My students and I will create a digital bin with links to texts, video clips, photography, etc. organized by our topics and subtopics. My students will be excited to explore issues further and share what they’ve discovered!

Check out our previous post on digital bins to learn more!


Writing With Passion

I can imagine the feature articles, research-based argument essays, and more that can come out of all of this work. I look forward to guiding my students as they make decisions about the work they want to do. I look forward to hearing their voices in their writing and celebrating their accomplishments!


Sonja Cherry-Paul is a member of the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award Committee. She has been immersed in reading wonderful books created by authors and illustrators who address themes related to social justice. The best part of this process is sharing these incredible books with her 6th graders and the insightful conversations they spark.  She is co-author of Teaching Interpretation: Using Text-Based Evidence to Construct Meaning and Flip Your Writing Workshop: A Blended Learning Approach. 

A Book in The Hands of a Child

Barnes and Noble2

“You know they’re closing all of the Barnes and Noble bookstores,” my dad announced to me during our weekly visit. “That can’t be right,” I responded. But it was. Last month, the last Barnes and Noble in Queens, NY closed.  I drove past it recently and my heart ached at the sight of it: Stripped down, locked, and barren. Those magical brown doors were the gateway to a wondrous world where my daughter’s love affair with books and reading began.

Our routine was simple. Each week during the first five years of my daughter’s life, we’d visit our local library. She’d pick out 25 picture books, the maximum they’d allow, and we’d race home to spread them across the carpeted floor of our living room apartment. Then, we’d read, read, read! By the end of the week, she’d select a favorite or two from the pile, and we’d purchase these books from our Barnes & Noble. Over time, we grew an impressive home library filled with beloved books. Fifteen years later, many of these books can be found on the shelves of my classroom library where they are read and loved by my students.

Barnes and Noble

As I stared at the vacant bookstore, I was flooded with memories. All of those years browsing the aisles, dollar bills or gift card in my daughter’s hands as she thoughtfully determined which book, out of all the gems surrounding her, she’d purchase that day. What does it mean for young children to grow up in a neighborhood without bookstores? To instead, have to travel many, many miles to experience the thrill of purchasing a book of their own?

Our school and classroom libraries are increasingly crucial to our students. With the closing of small and large bookstores and the reduction of funding of local libraries along with their hours of operation, schools will be the only opportunities for many children to be surrounded by large selections of great books.

I appreciate and embrace change. I understand that change is essential for the growth of any civilization and society. I am not arguing against online booksellers. I use them frequently and could not imagine functioning efficiently without them. Instead, I’m arguing that we need both.

Our children need to experience the possibilities of a new book that can only come from a face-to-face encounter. The sight of it; the cool feel of its cover; the smell of the pages. It’s a sensory experience that brings about a visceral response; one that results in pure excitement for reading.

As I drove a bridge away from those first formative years of my daughter’s childhood at our Barnes and Noble, images of the books she encountered and loved filled my mind. Blue Hat, Green Hat by Sandra Boyton; If you Give A Mouse A Cookie by Laura Numeroff; Frog and Toad are Friends by Arnold Lobel; The Magic School Bus; The Stories Julian Tells by Ann Cameron; Meet Danitra Brown by Nikki Grimes; Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White.

I’ll always treasure the hours spent there, selecting the perfect literary gift for my daughter, family members, and friends. In this ever changing landscape of online activity, let’s remember that few things are more powerful than a book in the hands of a child.


Sonja Cherry-Paul  enjoys trying on a new book as much as trying on a new pair of shoes. She is a member of the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award Committee and has been immersed in reading wonderful books by authors and illustrators who address themes related to social justice. The best part of this process is sharing these incredible books with her 6th graders and the insightful conversations they spark.  Sonja is co-author of Teaching Interpretation: Using Text-Based Evidence to Construct Meaning and Flip Your Writing Workshop: A Blended Learning Approach.