A day with Debbie Diller

Friday 8th April 2016

Do you have these books?


I do and love them.   When I was proposing my study for the tour these books came to mind in assisting me write my submission.  I also emailed the author Debbie Dillar in Houston to ask if we could meet to discuss small group instruction and independent work stations as part of my scholarship tour.

I was thrilled she said yes and in her busy schedule which takes her all over the US, I am so glad we could spend the day together.

What an experience I had.

First we went to Mark Twain Elementary School to visit a Year 1 classroom.  The teacher Nanette Musters welcomed me into her classroom and her children were more than happy to tell me about the learning they were doing in each work station in literacy.  They had the most wonderful classroom environment.

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School starts with the  morning meeting with the principal – students introduce the day and the school values, followed by messages and pledge of allegiance to the US and Texan flags, school values (this is an IB School )  and a minute silence.  Todays messages were delivered by Nanette’s students.

Take a look at the photos I took in her classroom.  What I loved the most and was totally inspired by was her student reflections – on post it notes, placed on the wall outside the classroom and later put on card, laminated and placed in a folder for students to read in the class library.  Nanette also included an engineering station where pairs collaborated together on a task  which encouraged extended vocabulary.  Once completed the pair would ask the class photographer ( a weekly class job ) to capture the finished product to be used as a writing stimulus later in the week.  Student literacy is eveident everywhere in her room.  Student made books, their stories are kept in individual binders to record progress and create a collection of personal stories.

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The highlight was her storytelling project with Rice University.  Stories are composed by individual students, teacher scribed and conferenced with teaching points along the way to increase skills in descriptive language, grammar, character and plot development. Nanette then shared the story with the class and together the students offer possible titles for the story.  Then the set is created for the filming of the story- HOW COOL IS THIS- a back drop is attached to the SMART board using velcro tabs on the top (simple but  so effective) The stories are acted out with the writer and classmates while the teacher reads the story.  The class photographer films the story on an ipad mounted on a stand.  Nanette then puts the film into a drop box and links them to a QR code in a folder for students to listen to in literacy stations.  – LOVE IT!!!

I gave Nanette a copy of Possum Magic by Mem Fox.  I have already heard from them that it has become a new favourite book in the classroom.

On we move to another school to see a first and third grade at The School at St George Place, a very diverse community with the city skyscrapers in the background.

Debbie has been working with these classes while writing her newest book and videos for some online courses. She is establishing pen pals with the first grade class with a school in Virginia on the East Coast.

We observed literacy work stations which included – MyOn reading on ipads ( online library) , buddy reading, oral language station, writing station, poetry pocket charts, and many more.

In this classroom I was able to see the conversation cards from Debbie Diller’s book “Growing Independent Learners” being used by the students.

Reflection time at the transition or conclusion of groups is important to establish learning outcomes and set new goals.  Debbie led this reflection with students reflecting on what they have learn or achieved.  Debbie also encouraged the students to reflect in full sentences. IMG_8912

Onto the third grade class where literacy work stations were equally successful just the content a step up to become grade appropriate.

Mrs Courington’s class begin with individual reading to self  before moving onto groups as displayed on the board. Debbie adapted the ‘conversations cards’ and added  pink reflection cards to each station with this class. Reflection card time is used in pairs before each group move on to the next station.

Grade three stations included today were- a research station using Kindle Fires (cheaper than ipads),word wall building with higher order vocabulary words, text features puzzles (teacher and student made), poetry, drama station- student made character puppets and vocab cards in packs, word study station -connected to texts and sorting adjectives and nouns in the story, Buddy Biography reading and non fiction summarising.

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There was much excitement when I gave them a little Koala!- cute

I also gave the teacher the Tigers Tale – a story about the Tasmanian Tiger.

After a lunch at the central market we drove onto the last school for the day – a school named after the first president of Rice University – Edgar Odell Lovett School.  Here the school Assistant Principal, Heather Gaines took us to several Kindergarten classes who were kind enough to run their literacy groups on a Friday afternoon.

One stand out thing Debbie and I liked to hear about was the whole school implementation of the eight thinking maps. An whole school approach means teachers do not need to re teach each year and students know the consistent language and what each one looks like.

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Plus the most beautiful photography project made by the whole school staff and students- a photographic representation of the alphabet found in the school.  Each class and office staff were encouraged to find the letters A-Z in the school environment.  The best of each letter were chosen to make this display in the school hallway.


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We concluded the afternoon with some shopping at one of our favourite shops Anthropology, before a visit to Debbie’s lovely home to relax and chat over a glass of wine then out for a yummy TexMex dinner together !

Thank you Debbie for a wonderful day.



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