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A Message from Gretchen
Dear Friends,

Happy New School Year!
It seems a bittersweet school opening this year. While we cannot predict some things about our world, we do know the new STAAR will soon be using constructed responses to show reader understanding. So this year our focus sharpens on ways to use writing to respond to reading, and we have been exploring tools to help.

We will be posting what we develop on the Trail web site, and we appreciate hearing from you about your work. This new school year would be a great time to try out Anna Thill’s adaptation of the heart map, the Nostalgia Heart Map. It elicits some poignant memories, even from young writers. Also, Nicole Morales and Maggie Cordova have shared with us the tabs they use on student reading and writing notebooks. If you’ve seen their notebooks (aka journals), you know how dazzling and functional they are.

Take a minute and read the poem by Austin teacher Althea Samuels. If it affects you the way it hit me, it will help build your storehouse of grace and strength which you will be using this year, and it reminds you to use some of that grace on yourself.
One last thing: our fall two-day workshops are scheduled for cities around the state, and registration is open. At this time, we’ve scheduled live, in-person sessions.
Have a wonderful year!


Fall Workshops Are Here!

This workshop will deliver concrete strategies to get your students writing in response to reading, with special emphasis on short-answer questions expected on the new STAAR. This two-day session will weave between grammar, writing and reading across the curriculum, using materials Gretchen has authored and adapted from STAAR released tests and live student STAAR essays.

Hurst: October 5 - 6
McAllen: October 18 - 19
Midland: October 25 - 26
New Braunfels: November 3-4
Houston: November 10-11

Click here for details and tickets.


Poem: "What I Give You"

A Note from Gretchen on the Poem that Follows:

The poet, Althea Samuels, works in Austin ISD and participated in a virtual workshop. The teachers from her group told me that Jimmy Santiago Baca was due for another visit with their students.

So we read his poem entitled “I Am Offering this Poem” from Text Structures from the Masters, and we all produced a poem inspired by Jimmy’s poem. Althea’s struck me as so important that I asked her for permission to share it.

Althea’s right — teachers are so hard on ourselves, replaying decisions and conversations, wishing we could have been better, more effective, more caring. Hearing her read it brought a lump to my throat. We hear people exhorting us to “give yourselves some grace,” but this poem delivers some of that grace.

What I Give You

I offer you the gift of forgiveness
Forgiveness when you think life is challenging
It is like a beach that is inviting you to jump in
On a warm, sunny day or 
A day dull, windy, clouded covered sky
It is a mom being impatient with her very active four year old
That has the attention span of two short minutes
Forgiveness can be handy when you second guess yourself
Am I doing it exceptionally well? I did
Did I mess up?
Am I simply too perfect?

My Dears, you will need it almost 
Every day, every second, every minute,
Especially every year of your life.
As you always did the best you could.

by Althea Samuels

Nostalgia Heart Map

You’re never too young to feel nostalgia, and sometimes looking back helps us look forward.  Thank you to Anna Thill for sharing her adaptation of the heart map.

Reading & Writing Notebook Tabs

Do your tabs keep falling off or ripping the page? Literacy coach Nicole Morales and fourth-grade teacher Maggie Cordova found a solution, and they’re sharing it with us!

These writing and reading notebook tabs help you find sections faster and give you a place to list the pieces in that section.

Copy them on cardstock and trim so the tabs stick out. You can reinforce the tab by adding packing tape. Use the lines as a section table of contents.

Short link for easy sharing:

Share Your Successes!

We would love to feature your work and the work of your students in our next newsletter! Please send your success stories to us at
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