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A Message from Gretchen

Dear Friends,

If you teach one of the secondary grades, you probably teach one lesson multiple times each day. And if you’re like me, your lesson gets better throughout the day. You learn what doesn’t work, what works, and what works better. You leave yourself notes, like a little trail of breadcrumbs, that you can follow to find your way back to the lesson that worked best.

If we watch our students, we see their moments of frustration or confusion, which in turn causes us to tweak, adjust, or innovate. Years ago, I tried out an idea when I noticed that my 9th grade boys were not explaining themselves in writing; that idea (“jerktalk”) proved helpful, unlocking for them a different way to imagine their writing as conversation. Little did I know how this tiny miracle would continue to help improve STAAR scores, to boost confidence, to stimulate further adaptations.

Long ago, my friend Barry Lane encouraged me to “get it published.” He explained to me why he was helping me, “Gretchen, we’re all fighting the same battle. The more we help each other, the stronger we all become.” He was right. The more we teachers share our trails with each other, the more we all grow. And the more we learn from each other, the more we have to offer our students and our community of educators.

I'm excited to announce our new Trail of Breadcrumbs website where we are continuing to share our trails with you, and we welcome you to share yours with us.

We also hope you'll join us for the STAAR Intensive: Reading and Writing with Both Hands workshop in July.


STAAR Intensive: Reading and Writing with Both Hands

This workshop will weave between grammar, writing and reading across the curriculum, preparing teachers for integrated, authentic instruction.
Who is it for?
This four-day session would benefit anyone who works in staff development with other teachers OR teachers who would like to receive a more thorough training in the work of Gretchen Bernabei. It will focus on kid-centered, healthy, authentic strategies, spanning all TEKS strands while containing serious STAAR preparation.

For every grade of writing, 3-12.

Is this the same as Gretchen's previous workshops?
This four-day intensive workshop will include strategies from previous workshops, but extended and explored for practical implementation. Participants will explore the many ways to use text structures and kernel essays throughout the year, incorporating them into other content area writing and responding to any kind of reading passages. Participants will also have an opportunity to experience the gradual release from guided kernels to independent choices, both as writers and as readers.
Will this address the new STAAR Test?
Yes. Teachers will learn a simple process to help students answer the new constructed response questions, as well as solid foundations for revising and editing passages.
Why is this a "Training of Trainers"?
Most school districts hope that teachers who attend great staff development will come home to the campus and share what they learned, whether formally or informally. This four-day intensive session will equip instructional coaches or other instructional leaders (including classroom teachers) to conduct multiple sessions throughout the school year. 
Could teachers attend?
Sure! Even teachers who have never been to one of her workshops! Gretchen will offer deep coverage of the basics.

Click here for more details and to register.


Visual Prompts for Themes from Major Literary Works

As part of our new Reading and Responding resource collection, you'll find these collections of visual prompts, which are especially useful if your students are reading major works like Romeo and Juliet.

What do you do with the visual prompts?

No doubt you’ll think of many ways to use these for freewriting or discussion, but you could also use them to write 11-minute essays

11-Minute Essays and Truism Braids

When Writing for Reader, a writer can use a text structure as a guide, creating one sentence per box to produce a kernel essay. The next step is for the writer to read the kernel essay aloud to several listeners to see how that structure worked for the writer. Peter Elbow calls this a “skeleton essay.” If the writer wants to develop this into a full essay, all the sentences need now are details and craft. 

One text structure that is especially valuable if you are helping students prepare for the English I and English II EOCs is the 11-minute essay. We also recommend teaching students to create a truism braid to achieve a high score on the STAAR composition.

Share Your Successes!

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