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The Power of Tools in Teaching and Learning


Thank you @TeachKate for sharing your photo.


As a member of  The Literacy Connection, I had the privilege of spending Saturday reflecting, growing, and learning with local colleagues and Kate Roberts coauthor of DIY Literacy.  Kate’s humor and enthusiasm for kids and literacy made the session memorable and inspiring.  

Kate led an informative session on the power of tools used in our teaching and the students’ learning.  She shared her thoughts on the root issues of learning (memorization, rigor, and differentiation) and how tools can support students in pushing past these difficulties.  Tools implemented explicitly and intentionally better serve the learner.

As Kate spoke, I began to reflect on my classroom.  I listened as Kate defined tools as something tangible, something helping us do things we can’t do on our own.  I thought about the pens, markers, colored pencils, iPads, paper, books, tables, and the seating options in our classroom. All of which make our space, and the opportunities within this space, possible.

Kate brought us in closer to consider the importance of the tools’ accessibility and their effect on learning.  Not only do these tools need to be accessible to the students, but students need to understand how and when to use them for learning.  

Kate’s narrowed focus broadened my vision.  I thought of the tools enabling my students to run the classroom and their effect on student ownership and engagement. The accessibility of a back stock of supplies (to independently refill supply caddies), bathroom and library pass, choice in writing utensils, dependability of technology, and the predictable structure of our workshops.  These tools offer the students independence.  Students are in charge of refilling supplies, choosing when to go to the bathroom or the library, what writing utensils they will be using, where and how they work.  Student ownership not only motivates learners, but ownership allows me to focus on the students, their needs, and the lessons.

All these tools and procedures were explicitly taught and practiced. This explicit teaching was essential in building an independent learning community.  From the first day, I knew a responsive environment, access to tools and choice, was vital in providing students with the freedom to focus on learning and not the tool.

Kate narrowed our focus even greater on a particular tool, charts.  Kate reminded us of the need to teach the students how to use the tool to support them in learning.  I drifted again to my classroom.  


Created by students during minilesson. Prior to going into the workshop the students placed on the chart. Self-assessing and helping me see how my students were feeling. 

I thought of the power of the charts in our writing workshop and my teaching.  The charts my students and I create serve as a reminder of our learning focus and the strategies we’ve practiced to support our learning.  Our classroom walls are chart rich.  I honestly don’t think I know how to teach without them.  Charts help me visualize my lessons and anticipate student strengths and needs. Charts support students in recalling experiences and strategies. The charts in our classroom tell the story of our learning.   As I think of what it is I want my students to learn, I ask myself, “What would the chart look like?”



While these thoughts were rambling in my head, Kate asked, “What is your Barbie Dream House Skill you’d like your kids to achieve?”  

She coached us to limit the steps, set an explicit goal, and to communicate this to kids. Our teaching tools (charts) need to be personal and responsive to students’ needs and their learning styles.  

My thoughts suddenly shifted to the many charts in hanging in our classroom:

  • Do they communicate a clear goal to all learners?
  • Are the steps clear to all learners?
  • Are they responsive to the student’s needs?
  • Do the students know how to use the charts?
  • Have I taught explicitly into our charts?
  • Take a minute to reflect on the tools in your classroom.  Are they responsive to the needs of the students?  Do the students know how to use them?  Are the tools accessible?

Please leave a comment, or write a post on your blog, or your favorite social media tool and share your reflections and your most successful tool!

Kate Roberts and Maggie Roberts are generous!

Thank you @MaryLeeHahn for sharing your photo. 


Video Series: DIY Literacy 

DIY Literacy Teaching Tools for Differentiation, Rigor, and Independence KateRoberts & Maggie Beattie Roberts 

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