Posted in Professional Development, Uncategorized

The Value of Penny Kittle PD

Charged with the task of trying to articulate what has Penny Kittle done to transform my teaching feels like a daunting task – but a worthy task.

Well, to begin, Penny Kittle has written two amazing books (among others), which are touchstones in my professional development:

Book Love

As for her PD Workshops: I’ve seen her in about 10 NCTE 20-30 minute Sessions in the last three years, and I participated in CRC’s Workshop last year for an entire day.  With every encounter I have a new strategy, a new “aha”!  Her generosity knows no bounds, and she empowers teachers with what they need and how to do it for student engagement and success.   She helps teachers with inclusion strategies so that all kids can find success and inspiration too.   Plus, she provides all her materials through handouts and on her site.

Her books are excellent, but like getting materials from any good teacher, you need to find a way to make it your own.  Usually with most good PD or good materials, the piles of good ideas remain in piles – awaiting the elusive concept of “time” to come along to allow a teacher to comb through the pile.  Yet, Penny’s full day PD is different, it forces you into the “doing”, allowing you time, inspiration, conversation, and practicality so the PD develops you quickly and effectively.  In “the doing” her materials and strategies become accessible to our classes and our collegiality, immediately.

Sending ELA teachers from our campuses of middle to high school, allows for wonderful collegiality to develop as the teachers can equally be inspired, can equally develop common language and paradigm shifts, and they can equally experience collective transformation of pedagogy and practice.  It is a common place to build collegial practice and professional conversations that can unify our goals and strategies.   In fact, I’d encourage administrators to join in this paradigm shifting PD too!

Here is a list of things I (and some of my ELA colleagues) do differently thanks to the Kittle-aha (I’m sure I have only captured the tip of the iceberg here):


  • Daily SSR – for students and for me to model
  • Strategies to help kids find the “right book” to hook them into reading
  • Methods to manage student accountability in reading (i.e. book talks, read-write-revise in Writing Journals, Reading Ladders)
  • Inspiration to build the classroom library
  • Book talks and book trailers
  • Reading strategies that work to improve students’ reading skills
  • Conferences about reading – how to do this well
  • Class discussions about Reading Identity of students
  • Close reading analysis strategies – how to dig deeper
  • Poetry – teaching it for kids to connect (especially been inspired by Slam Poets I would have never heard of if not through her – Sarah Kay, Phil Kay, etc..)
  • Non-fiction writing and writers as source materials – and how to analyze the rhetorical strategies in the text.
  • Novels and authors that have been popular with her students (this is a huge asset when trying to match students with the right books)
  • How to have a Reader/Writer notebook for novel studies (authentic academic note-taking that moves students beyond worksheets)
  • Learning to read info-data as a text (this is significant for new things we’re seeing on Diploma reading exams, but given no resources for to prepare students as all our “Released Material” is at least 4 years old.
  • How to “Read like a Writer” with annotations


  • Writing Journal – which she calls a Writer’s Notebook.  She does extensive work showing the effect this has on the teacher-as-model-writer and the effect on students.     Notebook
  • Quick Write ideas/inspirations
  • Writing with students – “Write Beside Them”
  • How reading great writers inspires great writing through emulation and inspiration
  • Revision and editing strategies – mini-lessons, notebook, revisions/editing, polished writing revisions/editing
  • Narrative writing strategies
  • Argumentation writing strategies
  • Expository writing strategies
  • Targets in writing – how to, scaffolding, and assessment
  • Scaffolding to increase skills and learning habits of writers – process and skills
  • The Creative Writing course for my Grade 12’s originates out of inspiration from her Writer’s Workshop.
  • Rubrics and assessment strategies



Penny Kittle is a rock star in English teaching circles.  But her humility and integrity compels her cite her sources and her own inspirations through her books, her website, her PD workshops, and her twitter updates.  She leads teachers to other rock star English teaching inspirations, forcing us into a transformative world of English teaching that continues to morph and improve.  Here are a few other great teachers she has led me to:

Thoughts about the Kittle-effect by other ELA teachers:

My Response to a Central Office query regarding the value of Kittle:

Penny Kittle is, without a doubt, one of the most powerfully inspiring educators I have ever seen.  She has been the source of my shift in crafting a much stronger ELA program over the past couple of years since I was first inspired by her in Chicago at NCTE.

I believe she is “THE” missing link for our Scope and Sequencing from K-12, as her work is both as an ELA High School teacher AND the Literacy Coach from K-12 in her district of New Hampshire.

It is my belief that ELA teams – inter-mixed from K-12 – attend.   What I mean by intermixed is that at a session HS doesn’t sit with HS, MS with MS, and E with E; rather, we build conversations and PD across campuses and grade levels.  I would support and persuade that the entire HS team to attend.

IF we can support CRC’s efforts to bring in this amazing educator, we would benefit greatly!

Original email proposal supporting a Scope and Sequence of educators to attend PD:

CRC has arranged for Penny Kittle to come to Calgary.  She has been my #1 mentor these past few years regarding my professional growth and development.

Penny provides practical advice and strategies for teachers to foster student reading and writing.   As ELA teachers we have so much to manage, with very few resources for HOW to do what we need to be doing.  Penny’s advice is sound and effective, as I’ve witnessed in the success of ELA classes through my improved design of instruction and the students’ improved engagement.

The beautiful thing about Penny is that she too is in the class.  So, her advice and strategies evolve and are tried and tested with everyday classes, everyday challenging kids.

As an organization, I believe that our Scope and Sequencing from middle school to high school is an essential ingredient for our school’s success, yet we have so few opportunities to foster this.  If ELA teachers are sent to this PD – en mass – from 7-12, intermixed in groups from different campuses and grade levels, we would all share in some powerful strategies to develop our students’ reading and writing skills; with Penny, the focus is not on the “what” should we teach, it is on the “how” we teach.  So, the more our teachers develop “Kittle” proficiencies, the more our organization benefits, the more our kids benefit.

Hopefully, we can find the funding to support this PD opportunity for our ELA teams.  I suggest that teachers sign-up soon as she renowned beyond my world and I have a feeling this PD could fill up quickly!

Posted in Uncategorized

Setting the Stage for Learning

I’m an aesthetic kind of person.  Setting really matters to me! Theories about what works best in classroom design and structure, to optimize student engagement, has been an obsession of mine.  I have worked so hard to create an ambiance and space of learning, peace and calm – a home.

My newly organized bookshelf

Our school practices a common classroom management program from K-12- CHAMPS, ACHIEVE (champs at the Secondary level), STOIC (all acronyms from the same origin of Sprick’s work); Structure is the first consideration in the STOIC model, and Structure is the first aspect I consider for the kids to enter the class.  Structure means many things, but the one that I attune to is all the structural aspects of my room in terms of sight, sound, smell, and feel – I love “Setting the Stage” for learning.

It must be the same appeal I feel when guests are coming to my home; my students are honoured guests for their 90 minutes – guests whom I want to feel they are “at home” in our space.

How do I Set the Stage?  Here’s a list of things I try to do:

  • The walls are a seafoam green colour, which is bright yet homey (not chosen by me, but intuitively our facilities boys did well with this choice)
  • I was good at having music playing – must get back to that on Monday (lost that touch)
  • The desks are arranged based on activity – rows (uh oh – testing), amphitheatre, partners, study groups, etc…
  • Aromatherapy – I love using my diffuser with oils to calm, focus, or energize depending on the kind of day it is –  (i.e. casual days are lavender kind of days).
  • The front of the room is like a talk show set – two cushioned comfy chairs with table in-between and the Smartboard behind.
  • Bookshelves line all corners filled with books.
  • Lamps around the room for softer lighting with natural light spilling into the room and maybe one row of overheads light on in the room – I never use full overhead lights (they induce headaches)

    baffles (Photo credit: Martin Deutsch)
  • Art and poster and words surround the space for inspiration
  • Acoustic Baffles – my room was a music room and we managed to keep the baffles that absorb sound = beautifully peaceful!
  • And, yes, carpet!  I am a teacher not to complain of my carpet – it affects sound too!

So, in June last year when it was announced that I’d need to clear my room for floor tiles to be put in – I had a panic attack not only because I was far too exhausted to pack up, not only because this would have been my 7th pack up in 8 years, but because I don’t want flooring tiles!!!

Carpet has become a h uge factor in my efforts to “Set the Stage”.  Here are three of the strongest factors for me:

The Flying Carpet by Viktor Vasnetsov (1880). ...
The Flying Carpet by Viktor Vasnetsov (1880). Oil, canvas. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
  1.  It provides a sound buffer from scraping desks and reverberating sound, which help students to stay focused and on-task.
  2. It creates a “home-like” atmosphere.  This is a huge psychological benefit for student learning.
  3. The students in my room (me with the artsy-fartsy background) often work on the floor for group work, journal writing, and SSR reading.  I give them that choice and many use it daily.  It is really important for kids to be able to establish their comfort, when possible, for thinking and creating.

Please see these articles to support what I am saying regarding “atmosphere” as being a key to learning.

Please know that I “get” the ease and cleanliness of tile – my whole house is laminate, even our bedrooms.  And true, my house is echoy, but we’re generally quiet people.  But through my years of experience in carpeted and non-carpeted spaces, I believe that 30 kids in one room get much higher success in their learning when the environment supports them, not works against them.