Musings from a K-5th Reading Specialist. I encourage my students to think, speak, read, and write, with my support.
I parent two amazing young adult daughters with my husband of 28 years.

December 20, 2011

Winter Break #bookaday Reading!

HOORAY!  It's winter break for three of us at my house! HOORAY!  (My husband has to work, so I promise to give him lots of relaxation time when he is home!)

If you didn't already know, I love to read.  I have since I was four years old.  My parents read to my brother and I, we had books on records (yes, I'm a child of the 70s) and I had the most important accessory a reader can't live without....a public library card.

So, now that our winter break has started, in between all the holiday and travel preparations, I'm again participating in Donalyn Miller's (author of The Book Whisperer)  #bookaday challenge.  (See her blog post here!)  As I finish a book, I tweet it on Twitter, using the #bookaday hashtag.  If you ever need book recommendations, this is a hashtag to search!

I'm lucky to have two teenage daughters who help around the house and keep busy with friends (in person and online) and activities.  Why am I lucky?  I get to READ, a lot, all throughout the break.  YES!

Those of us on Twitter who L.O.V.E. to read and share our love of books are all members of the Nerdy Book Club.  I'm truly excited to be part of such a well-read, book-loving crowd.  Sure, we call ourselves nerdy, but we know books and we're proud of it!

I'm really great at keeping track of the books I've read on Goodreads, but I'm trying to add some review info, too.  My goal this year is to read LOTS of books over winter break.  I'm on book number 3, and it's day 4 of vacation.  I do have two flights scheduled during break, so that will give me some decent reading time, too!

Now it's time to finish writing and get READING!  Join us in the #bookaday challenge and read as much as you can!

November 29, 2011


It's been a crazy fall, and my blog has gone by the wayside.  I've been working hard to keep reading (check my Goodreads stats!) and balance home and work.  I never feel like I'm giving either 100%, but that's the life of a working mom, and after 15 years of trying to "have it all,"  I'm fine with what gets finished.

Yesterday I spent every student-free moment preparing for a substitute to step in and take over the reins of my chaotic job.  For one day.  I specifically asked for a known, friendly sub who shares my type-C attitude and can "go with the flow."  I told nearly all my students that Mrs. S. would be coming to hear them read, and wouldn't that be fun!?!?


C'mon kids - you'll be able to read the book you practiced today, and then she will share a new book with you.  I bet she will even play BINGO with you if you finish early.  What do you say?

"Why can't you come tomorrow?" was their response.

Huh.  I thought they would be excited, but I guess I just found out that I'm a part of their day that they can count on.  I haven't asked for a sub this year, and I've felt guilty.  Maybe I should let that guilt go!

It was strange not to go to work today.  I had appointments, carpooling, daughters, and laundry to keep me busy.  It wasn't a routine day.

I'll be glad to see my students tomorrow.

September 25, 2011

They're coming TOMORROW!

Tomorrow I will host students in my resource classroom for the first time this year.  Many of them have visited or worked with me in past years.  Some are new to the school and my room.

I've been running around the house tonight -  gathering pillows, writing plans, and adding books to my already bulging book bag.

I can't decide what to bring and what to leave at home.  It's crazy - I'm not packing for a trip... I'm preparing for students, and school started weeks ago!

I dug out a book I created in my reading program about my life as a reader.  I found my childhood copies of Charlotte's Web and Blubber.  I'm completely bummed that most of my picture books are at my parents' house.

I can't wait to meet or become reacquainted with my students.  They are the reason I come to work every day, and I've missed them!

Now if I could just fall asleep....

September 18, 2011


I thought I was exhausted from rising early each morning to send two teens, then myself, off to school. 
I guessed that my husband's traveling schedule made me extra stressed.
I mused that I was missing the reading time I had this summer, racing through numerous books.
I figured the data that I collected on students, in spreadsheets and in piles of papers, was making me cross-eyed.
I wondered what the classroom teachers felt, meeting after meeting, as we try to set building-wide standards.
I realized I haven't worked in my room, with my students, on my schedule yet.
I'm frustrated.

August 10, 2011

August 10 for 10 Picture Books

I had my arm virtually twisted by Cathy Mere to join the fun of August 10 for 10 Picture Books.  I'll admit, I love to read  picture books, but I usually look to others to recommend them.  This is my top reason for participating - I can't wait to read everyone's posts!

I've picked the ten picture books that I hold near and dear to my heart.  You'll notice that none of them are new.  I came back to teaching when my now-teen daughters were in K and 2nd grade.  They helped me develop my read-aloud voices and styles, and I asked them to help pick great picture books they remember reading to add to my pile of school-read-aloud favorites.

Here are my 10 faves (at this moment... I'm quick to change my mind!) that I love to read aloud, in order of publishing year:

The Mitten by Jan Brett (1989) 
This is a favorite book of my 15-year-old daughter, as well as my students.  We love Jan Brett's detailed illustrations, and how she previews the story within each page's inset.  Other favorites written by Jan Brett include The Hat and Armadillo Rodeo because my students love the similarities between the stories and the characters.

Chicka, Chicka, Boom, Boom! by Bill Martin, Jr. (1989)
If you've never read this book with kindergarteners, you are missing out on a great experience.  I've managed to memorize this book because I've read it aloud millions of times over my 10 years of teaching and 15 years of parenting.  I had the pleasure of meeting Bill Martin, Jr. at a literacy conference.  He was a great man, completely invested in children's literacy.  In his many books he loves to play with words.  "Skit skat skoodle doot, flip flop flee, everybody running to the coconut tree!"

Owen by Kevin Henkes (1993)
Everyone can relate to Owen.  He treasures his fuzzy yellow blanket and carries it everywhere.  Mrs. Tweezers, his nosy neighbor, keeps insisting that Owen's parents break him of his blanket habit.  I love Owen's great imagination (Captain Plunger!) and his devotion to Fuzzy.  Cheers to Owen's mother for having an "absolutely wonderful, positively perfect, especially terrific idea" that helps Owen keep Fuzzy in a covert way.

Night Tree by Eve Bunting (1994)
I am a HUGE fan of Eve Bunting books.  She has such a way with words and descriptions, and her stories are not shallow.  This book is about a family searching the woods for a Christmas tree.  I usually avoid holiday books in my classroom, but this one has the family connecting with nature.  I can't go through December without reading this gem.  My favorite pre-reading activity for this book is to give students a list of words found in the story (lantern, hoots, thermos, popcorn) and ask them to make predictions about the setting and plot.
Duke the Dairy Delight Dog by Lisa Campbell Ernst (1996)
I was introduced to Lisa Campbell Ernst's books during a professional development session on vocabulary.  This book is the adorable story of Duke, a stray dog, who just goes "ga-ga" when he sees the Dairy Delight ice cream shop.  He refuses to leave, much to the chagrin of Darla, the owner of the shop, who can't stand anything unclean.  This book is a longer read aloud, but it's a great story with a sweet ending.

Scrambled States of America by Laurie Keller (1998)
Kansas is bored.  He doesn't like to live in the middle of the United States.  He'd rather switch places with a state in a more exciting location like....Hawaii!  I love this book because the states have great personalities, there's excellent dialogue, and it's just plain funny.  The follow up book is The Scrambled States of America Talent Show.  Your intermediate students will get a big kick out of this book.

Diary of a Worm by Doreen Cronin (2003) 
My 13-year-old daughter picked this book (and it's sequels, Diary of a Spider and Diary of a Fly) as her favorite picture books.  Our copy is falling apart as it's been read and reread many times.  The idea of a worm keeping a diary is funny enough, but the entries are so clever.  Our pick for best entry is June 15, "My older sister thinks she's so pretty.  I told her that no matter how much time she spends looking in the mirror, her face will always look just like her rear end."
Take Me Out of the Bathtub by Alan Katz (2003)
My coworkers tease me about this book (and it's sequel, I'm Still Here in the Bathtub).  I love a book you can sing!  As a kid, I would change the words to songs to be silly or complain.  This book is meant for me!  The students love it, and they beg for more every time.  Don't worry about your musical ability - the kids won't mind!

A Fine, Fine School by Sharon Creech (2004) 
Sharon Creech is a fine, fine chapter book author, and here is one of her three picture books.  My students usually hear this book at state testing time.  We're all so stressed and wanting to fit everything in, and I joke that the principal has decided to make us go to school on Saturdays (you should hear them complain!).  My insightful students feel bad for Tillie's brother, and we adore her dog, Beans (wait until you see him knitting!).  This is a fine, fine read! 
Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems (2004)
I couldn't leave out the Pigeon.  If you haven't read a Mo Willems book, you are missing out!  The Pigeon really wants to drive the bus, and your job (as reader) is to make sure he doesn't.  This read aloud calls for lots of audience participation, and I've seen even 5th graders chuckle when listening to this book.  Don't miss Mo's other great books about Piggie, Elephant and Knuffle Bunny.

Thanks for reading all the way through my list.  I'm sure I'll read more books (I saw one today - Dear Teacher by Amy Husband - that is completely adorable) and I'll add them to my list.

Happy reading!

August 9, 2011

Your Child's Writing Life by Pam Allyn

I was pleased to have an opportunity to read Pam Allyn’s newest book, Your Child’s Writing Life:  How to Inspire Confidence, Creativity and Skill at Every Age.  This is the second book I've read by Allyn (see my blog post on Best Books for Boys), and I found some wonderful inspiration inside. 

While reading this book, I took extensive notes and jotted down my favorite quotes.  This book has lots of tips and encouragement for parents, and I wish a book like this existed when my teenage daughters were younger.  Allyn’s style is that of gentle coach.  She writes with the busy parent in mind, yet there is no preaching in this book.  Allyn provides a plethora of ideas, tips and solutions for helping your child to develop as a reader, writer and thinker.

In the introduction, Allyn makes a case for “why your child needs a writing life.”  She explains that children need a writing life in order to grow emotionally, develop critical thinking skills and improve their academic achievement.  Allyn writes that students won’t have any stamina “if they haven’t been writing steadily and persuasively from a young age.”  I agree that many students would love to write if they had the tools and the encouragement when they were young, both at home and at school.  Unfortunately not every parent or teacher provides positive writing experiences.

I loved the title that Allyn gave to the first chapter of her book, “New Dimensions for Parenting:  Cherishing Your Child’s Writing Life.”  Ah, cherish.  I still have little books my daughters made from folded paper.  Allyn successfully convinces the reader that a main reason to have your children write (starting at a young age) is to preserve their writing as a keepsake.  Parents are encouraged to create a special place for writing and reading for their children, and then spend time each day, writing and reading together.  Allyn asserts “A child who reads regularly is a better writer.  A child who writes regularly is a better reader.”

Throughout the second and third chapters, Allyn explains the Five Keys to keeping your child writing as well as ways to cultivate writing in your child at any age.  The Five Keys are easy to remember (they spell WRITE):  word power, reading life, identity, time and environment.  As a reading teacher, I appreciate that Allyn insists that children be given access to a variety of texts.  She recommends parents keep a notebook in the car and “give your child time to write and the freedom to write as she pleases.”

Allyn’s book turns to reference guide during chapters three through five.  To begin, Allyn notes writing elements you will see, great writing activities and great books for children during each year of development.  She focuses on each year of a child’s development and gives specific information and tips, from birth to ten years old to the teenage years.  I think parents and teachers alike would devour this information.  Next, Allyn shares her ideas in “The Writing Doctor is in the House.”  This chapter compels parents to compliment their child’s writing and “parent with compassion.”  Finally, Allyn shares her twenty favorite mentor texts, with extensive information about each text and how to connect it to real-life writing.

As if I didn’t have enough notes and quotes from Allyn’s work in my own journal, the final chapter is all about curing writer’s block.  Aha!  I loved this chapter.  Allyn gives specific ideas for emerging, developing and maturing writers.  My favorite activities for emerging writers were using alphabet cookies (yum!) and writing a story on the pavement.  For developing writers, Allyn suggests a book swap, creating a restaurant menu and writing a “worst case scenario” to deal with anxiety.  Technology is a big topic when working with maturing writers as Allyn encourages these writers to create a blog, create a fictional Facebook profile for a character, or write a letter to their future self.

Although this book is written with parents in mind, I would also recommend this book to teachers of preschool through junior high students.  It’s a great resource to help children of all ages find their voice.

* eBook provided by NetGalley

July 28, 2011

You have mail!

My colleague, Michelle at Literacy Learning Zone, and I decided to try something new this summer to encourage the students at our elementary school to keep reading.

At the end of the school year, we showed the whole school a Prezi that I made called "Where will we catch you reading?"  I borrowed the idea from Mr. Schu and Shannon Miller of Two Libraries, One Voice.  We asked students to have someone take a photo (or draw a picture) of them reading somewhere interesting this summer.  We're hoping that many students take part in this project, and we plan to post their pictures on a bulletin board in the fall.

We also sent a mailing to our resource students that included an issue of "Summer Reading News" we  authored and a self-addressed, stamped postcard.  Last year I wrote letters to students and invited them to write me back, but I didn't give them a way to do this.  This year, we made blank 4x6 cards into postcards, including our mailing address and a postcard stamp (only 29 cents!).  I figured if I gave the students postcards with a stamp all they had to do was find a mailbox!

We sent out over 60 cards, and so far, 3 students have sent a postcard back. Yippee! :)  It's FUN to get mail!  Now we have to figure out when we'll write to the students again before school starts.  The goal is to remind them to keep reading and to show that we're thinking about them over the summer.  I wonder how the students (and their parents) felt about getting this kind of mailer.  I hope we receive more postcards!

July 20, 2011

Conferring Part 3: Walk-Aways

I think this is the first professional book that I've read cover-to-cover and used a notebook to track my thinking.  WOW! I can thank all the people participating in the #cyberpd book club for helping me gain deep understanding from the book, Conferring: The Keystone of Reader's Workshop, by Patrick Allen.

Conferring Walk Aways
I wrote this quote from Patrick in my notebook today, "I hope I'm building the capacity for my students to think independently without me there guiding them (p. 157)."  AHA!  We are strong readers who need to teach our students to become thinkers, readers and writers.  Very few students can manage this on their own. I have always believed that my developing readers will eventually grow into stronger readers.  I know I can do a better job of moving them on the reading continuum if I commit to conferring with them.

I really liked the transcripts that Patrick shared in this chapter, especially his thinking bubbles.  These transcripts are the next best thing to being in his classroom (which would be a treat!).  I saw the difference ways Patrick nudges one reader, Jacob, and listens intently to another reader, Mikayla.  The "walk aways" I learned from this section are:  1) ask opened ended questions and listen to the answers with an open mind, 2) give nudges to readers ("conferring is teaching, not fault finding"), and 3) give children time to think.  Many children will use think time to develop deeper ideas, when we give them the time!

Conferring Ain't Easy... but it's worth it!
This statement is catchy and true!  It ain't easy to confer, but I think reading this book has made conferring
less of a mystery to me.  I plan to start with building a strong culture of reading and responding in our notebooks during each session with my groups.  We will build our stamina and our strategy learning s..l..o..w..l..y.  We will take time at the beginning of the year really focus in on why we're working together and what we need to do.  That hard work (if I can really stay focused!) will pay off during the year, as I confer with individual students.

I'm still trying to wrap my head around how this is all going to work in my little resource room, as I have 40 minutes of focused instruction time to respond to the different needs of each student.  Thankfully, I've had the benefit of learning with all of my #cyberpd tweeps, and I hope we'll bring our classroom conferring experiences back to the discussion table throughout the year.

"We need to get back in the business of knowing children, of knowing readers...They need time to develop as readers with us sitting alongside them, nudging them over the hurdles and celebrating their successes" (Allen, p.181)

* * * * 
Want to join in the Cyber PD? Check it out:
July 6th
Part I: What Brings About a Good Conference, Anyway?
Hosted by Cathy Mere at Reflect and Refine
July 13th
Part II: What Are the Essential Components of Conferring?
Hosted by Jill Fisch at My Primary Passion
July 20th
Part III. What Emerges from Our Reading Conferences?
Hosted by Laura Komos at Camp Read-A-Lot
July 21st:
Join us for the final conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #cyberPD.

July 13, 2011

Nuturing and listening to our reading "apprentices"

Our #cyberpd book club continued to read Conferring: The Keystone of Reader's Workshop by Patrick Allen.  This week's focus was on Part 2:  What Are the Essential Components of Conferring?

Shut Up and Listen
The most essential component jumped off of page 127 for me, "Being a good listener means we do have to 'shut up and listen' or how else will we know what we need to teach!"
As my 13-year-old would say, "DUH!"  As teachers we have a habit of talking all the time.  As I read more about conferring, I've come to realize that this is a time for our students to show us what they are working on.  The more years I spend in the classroom (and as a parent), the more I realize that time spent one-on-one with a child makes such a positive impact on their learning and their self-esteem. 

Our job, as strong readers, is to be a nurturing reading mentor to our students.  Patrick wrote, "Nurturing inquiry comes by sharing our experiences as readers and helping children uncover their own growth and needs and insights." 

Patrick wrote about his father, a bricklayer, in the book's introduction. My family is full of tradesmen - bricklayers, electricians and builders. They all learned their trade from a master when they were apprentices. I have come to see my students as reading apprentices as well. No matter their learning style, we need to show them (modeling, think aloud) and guide them on their decisions about text.

The RIP Model

This was an easy model for my brain to follow.  The model that Patrick recommends we use to confer with students is the way most people approach a conversation with a friend. 
R review, read aloud, record:  start out with what you talked about in your last  conversation.  Ask the student to read aloud from a text.  Record your thoughts.
I instruction, insights, intrigue: not only are you looking for a strategy you can reinforce, you are also looking for the student's insights into the text, and their questions.  (I love the word intrigue!)
P plan, progress, purpose:  The final part of the conversation is to find out their plans as a reader, see what progress they've made on goals they set at the last conference, and set a purpose for future reading.

Conferring Versus Collecting
Oh, boy, did this section ring true with me (you did notice "chaos" in the title of this blog, right!?).  I have tried everything to keep track of anecdotal notes in my classroom.  Patrick lists many ways (binders, index cards) and I've tried them all.  I think that Patrick's conferring form, following the RIP model, will be a great vehicle to try again.  I think I'll make 1" binders for each grade level that I work with (K-5), then put tabs for each student in the binder.  I've tried to store all my student data in one binder, but that got too bulky.  I'm always up for a trip to my favorite office supply store!

"When I sit with my child's teacher..."
On pages 138-139, Patrick poses the question, "How might we make note of what we see and what we've learned?"  He then writes about how we have become data collectors in order to prove our work is helping students improve.  That's fine, but Patrick points out that as a parent, he would prefer to hear from a teacher how his child is connecting with books.  He writes, "I want her teacher to say to me, 'Recently I sat down beside Lauryn and discovered...'  That is the data I want."
As a parent, I can't agree more.  I understand that my child is a dot on a graph, but I really want to know how she is connecting her learning in school to her life experiences. 
When we confer with students, we are giving them a chance to show their learning, and we are giving ourselves a chance to know them as individuals.  Only then can we begin to teach them.

July 6, 2011

Conferring Book Club

I'm so excited to be part of the #cyberpd book club. We are a group of people, connected mostly by Twitter, that decided to read the book, Conferring, by Patrick Allen. Here are my thoughts after reading part 1:

I really want to make conferring a non-negotiable part of my classroom routine. I'm a resource teacher, so I see small groups throughout each day. My students come from a variety of classrooms with very different environments, but my students and I do build our own mini-community. Allen reminds us that we must begin each year by building a strong foundation and culture of thinking. This is the most important work of the year.

As I reflect on Allen's five ashlars, the third, "a clear and defined purpose and audience," becomes my area of focus. I always drive the students to work on specific reading skills and strategies, but I'm not usually clear about sharing the purpose for reading a specific text or the audience. I will be referring back to chapter 3 as I make plans for the fall.

Reading this book along with my Twitter PLN is motivating me to keep a notebook and really be more reflective as I read. (I'm usually a great skimmer!). I hope to encourage this practice with my teen children as well as my students. We don't always need to take careful notes each time we read something (purpose! audience!), but keeping track of your thoughts leads us to become mindful readers. I love Allen's thoughts on page 46:
Giving learners a chance to jot down their thoughts and sharing those ideas teaches children three things:
1. My thinking is important enough to write about.
2. My thinking can lead to rich conversation.
3. My thinking is valued.

I'm looking forward to all the other comments from my fellow #cyberpd learners!
Want to join in the Cyber PD? Check it out:
July 6th:
Part I: What Brings About a Good Conference, Anyway?

Hosted by Cathy Mere at Reflect and Refine

July 13th:
Part II: What Are the Essential Components of Conferring?

Hosted by Jill Fisch at Primary Passion

July 20th:
Part III. What Emerges from Our Reading Conferences?

Hosted by Laura Komos at Camp Read-A-Lot

July 21st: 
Join us for the final conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #cyberPD.

June 21, 2011

Reading up a Storm

I'm having a GREAT reading summer!  I've been out of school for a week, and I've read 5 chapter books.  Woo hoo!  Every summer, Donalyn Miller (author of The Book Whisperer) challenges people to participate in the "bookaday challenge".  I see this as an incentive to read each day, not as a contest.  When I tweet about the book I'm reading, I use the hashtag #bookaday.  I didn't get stressed when it took me 4 days to read The Hunger Games last week.  The whole idea is to read and share what you're reading.
Here are the books I've finished during my first week of break, in between driving my teens around town:

Hate That Cat by Sharon Creech 
This was a great book to read in an hour.  I read it's prequel, Love That Dog, with my 5th grade group this year.  I'm thinking of sending them a copy of Hate That Cat, and I said as much on Twitter.  To my delight, Sharon Creech (the author!  the FAMOUS author!) responded that she loved my tweet!  I love her books!

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
I didn't think I would like a book about a killing game in a dystopian world.  Boy, was I wrong!  The characters are truly survivors you can relate to, and I can't wait to read the next book in the series. 

Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King
This one is definitely a teen book.  This has been my heaviest read so far, but I still had to read it to the end to figure out what happened to Vera's best friend, Charlie.  There's some tough subjects (drinking, drugs, stalkers) in this book, but I wouldn't keep my teens from reading such a good story. 
The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot
This was a great read, especially because the book goes so much deeper into Mia's character than the movie (which I saw first).  I love that her father is in the book, and he's completely stuffy and royal.  Mia's Grandmere is a royal pain!  I plan to read more of the books in the series.

Project Mulberry by Linda Sue Park
Here's the most refreshing book I've read this week.  Park writes a middle-grade novel about two friends, Julia and Patrick, who live in Plainfield, IL and participate in a club like 4-H.  Their project is to raise silkworms, but they have to find a mulberry tree.  The author takes a few pages in between each chapter to have a conversation with Julia about the book.  I really enjoyed these pages, and the whole story.

Now, it's back to the books!  I LOVE summer reading!

June 12, 2011

They're gone for the summer...

I felt a sense of loss at 12:00 noon on Friday.  I stood at the side of the hallway, watching all of our students leave the building on the last day of school.  I gave high-fives, hugs and pats on the back.

I feel like I didn't even get to half of what I wanted to read and learn with them. 

I'm happy that my students now get to spend more time with their families and friends.  I'm excited that they can enjoy lazy summer days at the pool, at the park, and on the soccer field without the interruption of the school bell.

I worry that some students won't see much outside of their apartment, as they must watch younger siblings or wait inside while their parents work long hours. 

I do plan on keeping in better touch with my students this summer.  I kept our Kid Blog site up, and I've got a pile of envelopes and summer notes to mail them throughout June, July and August.

I'm sure to stay busy this summer, reading books, collecting ideas for next year, and reconnecting with my own family and friends. 

I hope my students have a sweet summer as well, but it sure was tough to see them leave.

May 26, 2011

Thankful for my Twitter PLN

I think it's the first time in my 10 years of teaching (how did that happen?) that I'm not ready for the school year to end.  I'm usually the one who sneakily manages the countdown calendar in the teacher's lounge.  This year, I've been completely consumed by my Twitter PLN (personal learning network).  I haven't even counted the days we have left.

I'm not ready for the year to end! I still have lots of books and instruction to share with my students!

How does a Twitter PLN connect to my reading instruction?  Well, because of my PLN, I've done the following this year:
  • follow & tweet with nearly 100 authors, teachers, librarians, and other book-minded people
  • participate in a monthly #titletalk to hear about books I should be reading.  Then I post them...
  • on my Goodreads account (in 2011 I've read and rated 40 books)
  • tweeted with authors about their books and how much my students enjoyed them
  • started KidBlogs for my 3rd, 4th and 5th graders (with additional encouragement from Michelle)
  • follow a bunch of book-centered blogs
  • created this blog to reflect on my teaching and books I love
WOW!  I plan to continue sharing and receiving ideas for books, using technology and planning great instruction throughout the summer for next year.  Thanks to Twitter, I can tap into the minds of resourceful people around the world anytime.

May 23, 2011

Pam Allyn's Best Books for Boys

Throughout my ten years of teaching, I’ve had the opportunity to teach a great mix of boys and girls.  I really strive to find the best books for each student, looking for titles that they will connect to.  I find that I can quickly rattle off many great reads for girls (I’m raising two daughters), but I don’t have the same knowledge when finding books for boys. 
Pam Allyn's Best Books for Boys: How to Engage Boys in Reading in Ways That Will Change Their LivesJust when I was looking for a resource to help fill this gap, I was given the chance to read and review Pam Allyn’s book, Best Books for Boys:  How to Engage Boys in Reading in Ways That Will Change Their Lives.  This book is an excellent compilation of ideas for getting boys reading that includes a complete, resourceful annotated list of books, organized by categories.
Allyn starts the book with her reasons for the focus on finding books for boys and how detrimental our country’s focus on standardized testing has been to our boys.  She then gives advice, through a question and answer section, for helping boys become more engaged in reading.
As I read the question and answer section, I was thrilled to find many ideas for helping boys (and all readers) find that reading is a worthwhile activity.  Allyn urges teachers to provide social opportunities for readers, encourage reading across genres and formats, and above all, give students “reserved, protected time to read every day.”  YES!
Allyn created a wide-ranging, annotated list of books that will appeal to boys at emerging, developing and maturing reading levels.  The books are organized into categories, including standards like Sports and Humor, but she then delves into specific categories including Expeditions and Mechanics and Technology.  I was pleased to find a great number of appealing books, and I plan to use Allyn’s list to guide my summer reading and book purchases.
Best Books for Boys:  How to Engage Boys in Reading in Ways That Will Change Their Lives is a great addition to your teacher resource collection. 
*Electronic review copy provided

May 13, 2011

Year End Stress

I admit it. I usually have less stress than my fellow teachers at this time of year. I'm a resource teacher, and I've had the same role in my building since I arrived. Our classroom teachers have not been as fortunate. Over the years, they have switched grade levels, teams and classrooms. I try to be supportive, offering kind words and chocolate to those who need it.

Sometimes the teacher who faces change has a positive, glass-half-full attitude, but others are downright anxious and miserable. I have more to offer the positive teacher, and I try my best to steer clear of the negative teacher.

Change is hard, but the teachers who show the most professionalism leave the drama out of their classrooms. These are the people I admire. These professionals make sure that their students are getting the most learning in the final month of school, regardless of what's happening with teacher assignments.

Our students are the reason we teach. They deserve our time and energy until the final minute of the school year.

April 30, 2011

Poetry Frenzy

I am very thankful for my public library!  Today I had a wide-eyed stare from the gal at the check-out counter.  "Wow, that's a lot of books!" she proclaimed.  Working as a team, we had the pile of titles back into my book bags in a flash.

At my school this week we are hosting a poetry night.  I am ready with books!!  We plan to read aloud poems, and have parents and children read poems together (and enjoy the great illustrations).  Then we will see what happens when children and parents write poems together.

Before all this happens, I get to enjoy my stack of poetry titles, many by authors I haven't read before.  I plan to post my favorites.

It may be April 30th, but I wish you ...
Happy National Poetry Month!

April 22, 2011

Student Blogs

I'm a teacher-leader and a teacher-follower.  I can get my colleagues excited about books and crazy ideas, but I'm really good at taking other people's ideas and running with them!

My fellow reading teacher, Michelle, was the first to start up student blogs on  I was reluctant to follow her lead with my students because I had many doubts and questions: 
Won't they treat kidblog like that social media site where we all spend too much time?
What will they blog about?
Will they have enough to say and will it make sense?
Michelle set a high bar for her intermediate students, and they dove into blogging head first.  I was in awe.  I was jealous.  I set up blogs for my students immediately!  I have been so tickled by they amount of ideas and writing and wonderful conversations my students have been having.  They are so appropriate and respectful.  They want to share so much about themselves.

The best part of this blogging experience came when a current student logged into the kidblog site from home.  Her older brother is a former student of mine, and he was instantly curious and tried to blog when she walked away from the computer.  My student was frustrated, so she asked me to add her brother to the site.  Now this former student, the one who would cringe each time he picked up a pencil, has posted all about his favorite basketball team and their path to the championships. 
He has become a writer.  My students now see themselves as writers.
I couldn't be prouder.

April 20, 2011


I ordered the painted lady caterpillar kit.  My husband thought it would be wasted on our teens.  I argued that I owed it to them.  I was the mom that promised my girls long ago that I would let them "grow" butterflies.

Raising these caterpillars has been such a neat experience... better than I expected.

We took pictures of them as caterpillars with our zoom lens, and noted their growth.  Each morning we'd check to see which caterpillar had made a chryasalis, then we'd discuss which one might be next based on their size and eating habits.

Out of 11 chrysalides (new vocabulary!), we've watched 7 butterflies emerge.  Our evenings consist of watching the butterflies unroll their tongues to eat, hang on the side of the habitat, and flit around.  We've debated if the painted ladies are all one gender (how do you tell?) and if they are communicating with their wings.  I've loved every minute of our butterfly-centered conversations.

I'm so pleased with this experiment.  It's shown me how important it is to give your children experiences. 
This is definitely one I'm glad we shared.

April 17, 2011

Spring Blooms

Ahhh.... spring! Our weather isn't consistently great - rainy and windy one day, sunny and warm another.  My students aren't consistent either.  Reading fluently one week, then completely slowing down the next.  Somehow they don't let these valleys on the line graph stop their enthusiasm for learning.

The best thing about working with developing readers is watching them bloom in the spring.  This is the time of year that I don't have to pull them through text.  More of them are pushing themselves.  They've made such strides, and their confidence has increased.

I don't follow a set curriculum with my readers, but sometimes I feel like I haven't taught them nearly enough this year.  When my students get rolling, it's dangerously close to the end of the year.  I start to stress out
Then I stop and breathe.
I realize that it's better to do deeper thinking and understanding than to rush through a bunch of text.  I can't worry that we haven't gotten through enough lessons in my intervention kit.  The point of helping developing readers is to help them find books that they like, then another book, and another.

This is my renewed goal for the remaining weeks of school.

I like to tell my most stubborn students, "I can't make you love reading, but I can help you dislike it a little less."  It's time to plan some book talks!

April 13, 2011


A frown.  A smile.  A complaint.  A compliment.
A sarcastic remark.  A postive comment.
Finding balance can be hard when you spend time with children.
Children can bring out the worst in some of us, but they should bring out the best in all of us.  Children are always learning because of how observant they are.  Children learn how to act by watching others.
We are the adults.  We are their role models.

April 8, 2011

Love This Book, Loved That Dog

Love That Dog by Sharon Creech is among my top ten favorite books.  I have read it with a few of my small groups over the years.  This time Love That Dog might be a tricky read.  It's great for poetry month.  It's written in verse, and students can totally relate to Jack and his dislike of writing.  You might think, "Tricky?  Why?"  Well, it's about a boy, his dislike of poetry, and his dog.  Sniff.
Our black lab, Candy, lived to the ripe old age of 16.  She was a crazy puppy when we adopted her and chewed many things.  She didn't have great manners and nearly bit your finger when you gave her a treat because her eyesight was terrible.  These memories were conveniently forgotten when she was gone.
Loved that dog.
I warned my 5th graders that there is a sad part in the book regarding the dog.  I tried not to give anything away, but they caught on.  One student shared a sad dog story with the group.  I explained that I used to have a dog.  One student immediately recommended I get a puppy.  I replied that puppies make me tired!

I think this will be a great read for my small group of students.  It's too bad that most of them haven't experienced the happiness (and challenges) of having a pet.  I told them how excited I am to share this book with them.  It will be our first book and author study.  Wish us luck!

April 5, 2011


Raise your hand if you love assessing your students!  (Anyone?)  I have to admit, I don't mind giving reading assessments.  (Surprise!)  I love to see what my students know and don't know.  Most of my students have definite gaps in their learning, and it's for a variety of reasons.  Some weren't ready for the skill when it was introduced, some have expressive language challenges, and some have short attention spans. Whatever the reason, my job is to help "spackle" as many holes as I can.  When I am able to give an assessment one-on-one, that's the best situation.  I take the time to talk with the student without others vying for my attention.  My students appreciate the undivided attention, and I'm grateful for the insights I gain about their personalities, families and life experiences.
The challenge I face is analyzing the assessment data to pinpoint what pieces of learning each student is missing.  The list of skills needed for some students fill a page, and this can be daunting.  My goal is to start with a short list of two skills or goals for each primary student.  I wonder if the materials I use with my primary students will meet their short term needs.... hmmmm... I wonder.....

April 3, 2011

Graphic Organizers

I love graphic organizers.  Why?  It brings a bit of organization to my teaching.  Most of my developing readers are right-brained and very creative.  I've learned that when we use a graphic organizer to note our thinking or retell a story, the students have more understanding which leads to deeper thinking and comprehension.