Reality Check Podcast: My Conversation with Jeanne Allen

Hi, all–

I was recently interviewed by Jeanne Allen, founder and CEO of the Center for Ed Reform, on her podcast, Reality Check.  It was a fascinating conversation!!!  Here’s the link:


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A GREAT RESOURCE: The ELL Teacher’s Toolbox

Lately I seem to keep bumping into people who ask about resources for English Language Learners, so I was excited to get a copy of The ELL Teacher’s Toolbox: Hundreds of Practical Ideas to Support Your Students by Larry Ferlazzo and Kate Hull Sypnieski. Ferlazzo is a teacher who writes a popular education blog at and he is known for sharing useful information. Sypnieski is a teacher and consultant focused on ELL instruction. Together, they’ve produced something that is VERY handy—not only for ELL students but also for students in general. As they note, “Good ELL teaching is good teaching for everyone!”

This book is chock-full of graphic organizers, templates, and handouts based on 45 different instructional strategies. By “strategies,” they mean things like independent reading, literary conversations, vocabulary, and sequencing. They describe each strategy, explain what they like about it, provide ample supporting research, note Common Core connections, explain how to teach it (including handouts), address what could go wrong, and provide technology connections.

While it is extremely comprehensive (some might say “encyclopedic”), it is also easily accessible. You can dig in anywhere and start using the tools today.

Check it out here!

Posted in ELL students, English Language Learners, ESL instruction, Resources | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

PARCC ELA Prep Checklist

As a former high school English teacher who loves literature and loves to write, I do not believe in doing test prep 24/7. I believe tests are a genre, the same way that drama is a genre and poetry is a genre, etc.—and we should prepare students for them in the same way that we prepare them to analyze a play or write a poem: figure out the key features of the genre, teach students what is required to do well in working with that genre, then give them sufficient practice so that they can confidently tackle that genre in the future.

In the home stretch of PARCC test preparation, here’s a quick diagnostic tool you can use to determine if your students have a clear grasp of some essential strategies that will help them succeed with this genre.

Below is the “student” version. This PARCC ELA PREP CHECKLIST (a free download) includes both the student copy and a suggested answer key.



Directions: For each question, on a scale of 1-10 (1=not confident, 10=very confident), FIRST rate how confident you feel about how to respond. THEN, jot some notes in response. We will discuss each item. AFTER our discussion, rate how confident you feel. See the model.

QUESTION NOTES How confident you feel



How confident you feel



What should you do FIRST when you start a PARCC ELA test? Click forward to the writing prompt, turn the prompt into a question, and write that question on your blank sheet of paper so that you can take notes with that question in mind. 1 10
How do you unpack a Literary Analysis or Research Simulation Task writing prompt and turn it into a question?      
How much time should you spend on 1) reading and taking notes, 2) answering multiple-choice questions, and 3) writing your narrative or essay?      
How/Why can taking notes actually SAVE you time?      
What are some useful test-taking strategies for answering multiple-choice questions?      
What kind of organizer should you create for taking notes on the Literary Analysis Writing Task? What should the notes focus on?      
Why should you put checkmarks next to items in your organizer for the Literary Analysis/Research Simulation Writing Task?      
What is the basic outline structure for a Literary Analysis compare and contrast essay? (2 options)      
What kind of organizer should you create for taking notes on the Research Simulation Writing Task? What should the notes focus on?      
What is the basic outline structure for a Research Simulation compare and contrast essay? (2 options)      
What two things might the Narrative Writing Task ask you to do (after you read the passage)?      
Why is important to pay attention to “DDAT” and “Somebody Wanted But So” when pre-writing for the Narrative Writing Task?


On the Narrative Writing Task, what kinds of compositional risks should you use?      
The box you’re supposed to type in looks really small. Does that mean you should only write two sentences?      
What should you be sure to do before time expires, and why?      

For more information on PARCC, see the TLC “PARCC Prep” page.

PS: Please feel free to comment (or Email me at if you have any questions, thoughts, or suggestions!

PPS: Thanks to Anibal Garcia at Queen City Academy CS for inspiring this post, and thanks to Dominy Alderman at HoLa CS for her input.

PPPS: This Blog post originally ran in 2016; I’m reposting it as a reminder.

Posted in Assessment(s), PARCC, Resources, Test Prep, TLC Website Resources | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

An Argument for “Quote Lasagna”

Although I’ve been a longtime proponent of teaching “quote sandwiches” to help students write effective paragraphs (see HERE and most recently HERE), lately I’ve begun to notice that students who use this approach (context, quote/evidence, explanation) seem to overemphasize the “quote” part, often to the detriment of the explanation. They seem to believe that the evidence is the most important part, possibly because of the name “QUOTE sandwich”—i.e., it’s not “EXPLANATION sandwich.” Either they skimp on the explanation or the explanation does not actually explain how the evidence supports their argument. As a result, their paragraphs feel disjointed.

While conducting writing conferences with students recently, I’ve found that when I ask them to simply explain their ideas, they can do so pretty easily. If I then ask them to explain how the evidence supports their ideas, sometimes they can and sometimes they can’t. Some are clearly struggling with Argument vs. Evidence Step 2.5 (“Given arguments, select the most relevant evidence to support them.”). As long as they find SOMETHING, they think they can drop it in. After all, it’s a QUOTE, and that’s what a quote sandwich needs, right?

So now I’d like to propose a new metaphor: “quote lasagna.” As any lasagna fan knows, the recipe calls for MULTIPLE LAYERS of pasta, sauce, meat, veggies, and various cheeses. While most chefs adhere to that general principle, there is not one correct way to make lasagna. The goal is to create something yummy by blending these ingredients, layer upon layer, in a way that makes sense (I think we can all agree that five layers of noodles without anything else in between would be silly).

How does this idea translate to paragraph writing? Effective paragraphs BLEND evidence and explanation. As long as you provide enough context so that we know what you’re talking about, there is not one right way to sequence what you want to say. Sometimes you need to explain BEFORE you provide details. Students who believe they are only allowed to provide evidence FIRST might struggle to explain not because they’ve picked weak/irrelevant evidence but because they feel constricted by the “rule” that the evidence should be between the context and the explanation.

I think using the metaphor of layers and blended ingredients might free students to start with explanation if they need to. With a slightly less rigid structure, they might write more clearly and coherently.

Let me know what you think.

Posted in Argument, Context, Evidence, Explanation, Literacy and the Common Core BOOK, Open-ended Response Writing, Paragraph writing, Quote Lasagna, Quote Sandwiches, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

PARCC Releases 2017 Items!

Apparently PARCC recently released 2017 ELA materials. To be honest, I’m not sure when they did this because I have not received their newsletter in months (in fact, I’m not sure they still send out newsletters). So I found out today by happy accident.


I have already updated the following files (which feature all of the released prompts) on my TLC “PARCC Prep” page, and you can find them in the Download Zone*:

  • PARCC Narrative Writing Prompts 2-22-18
  • PARCC Literary Analysis Writing Prompts 2-22-18
  • PARCC Research Simulation Writing Prompts 2-22-18

*If you would like to subscribe to the TLC Website for 50% off, go HERE and enter this code: TLCBOOK50 (Note: ALL CAPS). There are more than 1,200 files full of practical tools available to download, and at 50% off, it’s only $25 for a full year’s access. Plus, it takes less than a minute to sign up.

Thanks again for your support!



Posted in Assessment(s), Literary Analysis Writing, Narrative Writing, PARCC, Research Writing, TLC Website Resources, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Please help me present…


I’ve submitted a proposal to the 2018 National Charter Schools Conference, and I need your vote to help me secure a slot to present! IT ONLY TAKES 30 SECONDS AND WILL MEAN A LOT TO ME.

To vote, visit the official NCSC18 Session Selector here:

You can search for my session, “17 Ways to Combat Learned Helplessness in Classrooms,” or find me by name. You can only vote for me once. Voting is open now through February 28.

Please let me know if you have any questions and thanks for your support!



Posted in Combatting learned helplessness, Professional Development | Tagged , | 4 Comments

ANNOUNCING: New TLC “Argument vs Evidence” page!

I’ve just launched a new page on the TLC Website: Argument vs Evidence“!

This page curates my online resources for teaching students how to use “Argument vs. Evidence, Steps 1-6” to write more clearly. The TLC Blog posts explain the steps, and you can find the needed materials in the Download Zone.

PS: For additional information, please check out my books:

Posted in Argument, ELA Common Core Standards, Evidence, Explanation, Literacy and the Common Core BOOK, Literary Analysis Writing, Paragraph writing, Research Writing, The Literacy Cookbook BOOK, TLC Website Resources, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Shared Reading Needs to Have a Clear Purpose


[This post originally appeared in slightly different form on MiddleWeb on January 8, 2018.]

Recently while conducting an observation, I saw a teacher direct students to sit in pairs and read an article together. I kept waiting for further directions, but none came. Students scattered happily to various corners of the room to sit side by side. Some of them read. Some of them took turns reading. Some of them chatted. And there was no telling how long this would go on because the teacher wasn’t using a timer.

I have no doubt that this teacher was not intentionally trying to waste time. But I was struck by what a missed opportunity this was. What did this teacher expect students to glean from the text? As I’ve explained in a previous blog, it’s vital to set our purpose when reading (and train students to set their own). In this case, I saw no evidence of purpose. Among 13 pairs of students, I observed 13 different approaches to shared reading.

Our primary job as teachers is to maximize student learning. Shared reading has the potential to be a useful vehicle for learning if implemented effectively. Let’s talk about how to make that happen.

Why Shared?

Before you decide to use a shared reading approach, consider the pros and cons.

Shared reading has several benefits: 1) Stronger readers can support strugglers; strugglers who might stare into space during silent reading time cannot opt out during partner reading time. 2) Students working in pairs have more frequent opportunities to build fluency, question the text, and explain their ideas than they typically would in a whole-class discussion. 3) Students can move at their own pace. 4) Unlike when individuals read silently, teachers can monitor progress by circulating and listening; they can stop and support any students who need help. 5) With partners engaged in this focused work, teachers can simultaneously run reading groups or writing conferences.

On the flip side, there are some drawbacks: 1) Shared reading can become an exercise in listening comprehension if both partners are not looking at the text; listening alone does not strengthen reading comprehension (Incidentally, for the same reason, those “reading” tests some teachers give after they’ve read aloud and discussed a story all week are actually listening comprehension tests). 2) You cannot assess independent reading comprehension if students are not reading independently. 3) Students who are paired with struggling readers may become frustrated.

How to Get the Most Out of Shared Reading

If you’ve decided that the pros outweigh the cons, here are some strategies to maximize the opportunities inherent in this approach:

Model the behavior you expect. As with any academic work, we cannot assume students popped out of the womb knowing how to read effectively with a partner. In a quick role-play, you can clarify your expectations and defuse any anxiety students may have about how to “perform” in this activity.

  • After modeling, it’s also helpful to give students a few minutes to try out the approach, then pause the class to give some feedback on what you’ve observed. Offer praise and suggest tweaks, then set the timer again and let them get back to work.
  • There is not one “right” way to run partner reading, but make sure that your approach engages both partners constantly. While the designated reader is reading, what is the other student doing (besides also reading along silently)? Is he/she preparing to ask a question (ideally, a “Why” or “How” question)? Preparing to answer a question they came up with together? Analyzing the text for a particular purpose (e.g., because “today we’re trying to figure out what kind of person Ponyboy is” or “we’re looking for things that surprise us in this article” or any number of other possible purposes)? How often are they supposed to switch roles? (PS, it’s best if they have targets such as a paragraph or two rather than something that requires you to be involved with the timer.)
  • Clarify how partners should capture their ideas (e.g. on an organizer of some sort) and how the class will follow through on this partner reading. For example, “After we finish this chapter, we’ll run several Socratic seminars to hear what people figured out about Ponyboy.” Or, “After this, we’re going to use our notes to write a quick character analysis of Ponyboy.”

The other really cool thing about partner reading is that it can also be used for students to give one another feedback on their writing. Instead of “peer editing,” which is often a recipe for the blind leading the blind (“I think you need a comma there, but I’m not really sure”), students can take turns reading aloud their essays or narratives while their partner reads along and pauses to tap any time he/she has a question.

This question can be either a request for clarification (“What do you mean in that sentence?”) or a request for elaboration (“Why do you think Ponyboy said that?”). Questions along these two lines—as opposed to statements such as “That’s confusing,” which can raise defensive hackles—show that the reader is genuinely interested. More importantly, they also invite the writer to explain.

Which is what good writers do. Relentlessly.

Posted in Close Reading, Comprehension, Questioning, Reading, Shared Reading, Writing | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Designing ELA PARCC Prep Materials That Fit in Your Curriculum”– SIGN UP NOW!

I’ll be presenting at NJPSA/FEA in Monroe Twp., NJ, all day on January 25!

Here’s the blurb:

Designing ELA PARCC Prep Materials That Fit in Your Curriculum
Date: Jan 25, 2018 Time: 9am – 3pm
Location: FEA Conference Center
Presenter: Sarah Tantillo, Ed.D.
Fee: $149.00Instead of cramming for PARCC, you can incorporate PARCC-aligned materials into your existing curriculum. This PARCC-prep intensive session, recommended for ELA and SS teachers (as well as school leaders), will coach participants in how to create PARCC-prep materials aligned with their curriculum. Participants will use a comprehensive set of tools and field-tested lesson cycles to design a PARCC ELA preparation plan and PARCC-aligned writing tasks that set students up for success.

For details and to register, click here.

Posted in Assessment(s), Lesson-planning, Literary Analysis Writing, PARCC, Presentations, Professional Development, Research Writing, Resources, Unit-planning, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

RECOMMENDED READING: The Writing Revolution by Judith Hochman and Natalie Wexler

In 2012, if you read “The Writing Revolution,” Peg Tyre’s article in The Atlantic about Judith Hochman’s effective method for teaching writing, you may have wondered, Where can I learn more about this?

You were not alone.

In fact, so many people asked for more information that Judith Hochman started a nonprofit, and she and the Board Chair, Natalie Wexler, wrote a book to explain how the method works.

The Writing Revolution: A Guide to Advancing Thinking Through Writing in All Subjects and Grades (recently published by Jossey-Bass with a thoughtful foreword by Doug Lemov) tackles one of the most common teaching problems in the field: assigning writing but not teaching it. Hochman and Wexler share strategies for how to get students to use the writing process to expand their thinking, and their approach should help teachers of ALL subjects, even math!

A few highlights: they rightly point to the importance of questioning the text—how it informs writing as well as reading—and the need to teach students how to write SENTENCES before we ask them to write paragraphs. I particularly love their “because-but-so” activity, in which students complete sentence stems with these words, as in:

Washington crossed the Delaware because ___________.

Washington crossed the Delaware, but ___________.

Washington crossed the Delaware, so ___________.

Writing is one way we show understanding of content. This excellent book will help K-12 teachers strengthen their students’ ability to do that.


Posted in Curriculum, Differentiation, Lesson-planning, Paragraph writing, Questioning, Recommended Reading, Resources, Summarizing, Topic Sentences, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment