Tuesday, December 9, 2014

SOL - Grief

I do not normally share difficult personal stories here; I tend to focus on the more positive stories, the ones that are easier to write. My usual reaction when things are tough is to hibernate and withdraw. However, this piece begged to be written, so I am going to try to give it justice.

I have experienced grief, sorrow, and sadness at many times of my life, but my most recent encounter with grief has profoundly changed me. Friends of ours lost their 16 year old son. He was delightful - full of laughter, humor, spirit, and lots of orneriness. When he walked in a room, his engaging ways could make us smile, even when we didn't feel like it.

One day he was here; the next day he was gone. Any parent who has lost a child knows this isn't the "natural" order of things. Our children should outlive us, and when they don't, we are filled with a hole in our lives that leaves us inconsolable.

That feeling is what our friends are currently experiencing. Their grief is a living, breathing thing; it has a life of its own. I was with them at the calling hours, the funeral, and even at their home when we all sat around, cried, hugged each other, and told some stories about this child.  We held on to each other, trying to make sense of something that defies all logic.

The fact that they are our friends has me grieving, but another layer to this story is that I also had this child as a student. For about 175 days one year, we spent time learning from each other in our classroom. I imparted my knowledge about being a reader and writer, but I learned a lot from him about how to embrace life. He loved his family, his sports, his friends, and anything Cleveland. When his parents are ready, I have many "M" stories to share that will allow us to laugh and cry together.

He was life force all of his own, and now he's gone.

That fact has many reeling - his friends (a multitude of students from all 3 high schools in our community), his coaches, his teachers, his neighbors, his teammates, his extended family, his brothers, his mom, and his dad. The grief is real.

Learning how to live without "M" - that is a grief his parents are feeling, and the hard road they now need to travel. The best any of us, as friends, can do is to stand along the road to support them in whatever way needed.

Thanks to the ladies at Two Writing Teachers for hosting the Tuesday Slice of Life. Head on over there to read even more "slices" that others wrote.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

First Day Jitters - #SOL Dec. 2

It's move-in day again.  Not new house move-in.  Not college move-in. Not moving a daughter into her new apartment. No this is move-in day for me.

In my new position as intermediate literacy coach, I have the privilege of working beside my intermediate colleagues in four different buildings in our school district.  The number of colleagues I work with can be daunting, but not as daunting as the first day move-in.

A small portion of what moves into
my offices with me :)
Our district's coaching model finds us in one school at a time, for about a span of three weeks.  For me, that means four different offices.  I'm certain I will fine tune this by the end of the year, but for now, four different offices means all my mentor texts, professional resources, technology tools, container of chocolate (a must for all coaches!), and various sundry items all travel with me each time I make a move.

And then there are the first day worries:
  • Who will I sit and eat with at lunch?
  • Will people like me here?
  • Will I be able to find the bathrooms?
  • How do the copiers at this school work?
Let's just say, I have an entirely new appreciation for what it means to be the "new kid" at school.

But after I have moved in to the new office space, unloaded my things making sure that books are the first thing noticed when entering the office, and found the bathrooms, the jitters go away.  I find some people with whom to eat lunch and the staff welcomes me warmly.

But thank heaven, I don't have to find a group to play with at recess!

***Disclaimer - I actually wrote this Slice back in September, but never published it. As I am beginning my second cycle of coaching, I am currently back in my very first building. The moving in is still a thing, but I love that the relationships I built with people all the way back in August and September, have been incredibly helpful as we begin a deeper layer of collaborating together.  It's so nice not to be the new kid anymore, but I am grateful to all the colleagues who so graciously helped me to not have those "new kid" feelings.***

A huge thank you to the smart ladies at Two Writing Teachers for hosting a Slice of Life each Tuesday.

Monday, December 1, 2014

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? - Dec. 1

A little over a week ago, at #ncte14, I attended the Children Literature Assembly's breakfast, and had the distinct pleasure of hearing Jon Klassen speak. As he shared two of his books, I Want My Hat Back and Sam & Dave Dig a Hole, it was delightful to look at the illustrations in each book again accompanied by Jon's commentary. Understanding the underlying thinking behind these illustrations had me giggling over and over, and I knew I wanted to reread both books.

After listening to Jon talk about the ending of Sam & Dave Dig a Hole, I knew I had to reread it one more time on my own. If you haven't read this book, or it's been a while since you read it, it would be a good read. More importantly, it would be a great book to share with students. Having them share their thinking about the story would be a good way for them to process their understanding of the text. Having them see the pictures where the boys come oh-so-close to the treasure, but then back off, could lead to a conversation about frustration. But the conversation I would really love to hear is how students interpret the ending of the book - do they notice differences? Can they explain those differences? In all honesty, I totally missed it - this thing we call "close reading" - I was not engaged in that at all! My gut feeling is that given how visual many children are, they will notice, but then the conversation about the meaning they place on what they notice would be fun.

I also reread Flashlight by Lizi Boyd this week. It would be a great wordless picture book to help promote thinking and inferring and conversation. Each page not only tells its own story, but through cut-outs on the page, it gives a glimpse into creatures that may be on the next pages, as the little boy traverses the woods at night. The stories children could create as they use the beam of the flashlight to focus their thinking would be fun. Wordless picture books like Flashlight would not only be great for primary students, but it would have the same power in intermediate classrooms as well.

I hope you had some enjoyable reading experiences this past week. If you'd like to see what other children's books others read this week, head over to Teach Mentor Texts.  Thanks so much to Jen for hosting the kidlit version of IMWAYR!!

Happy reading this week!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

More than Just a Number - #SOL Nov. 18

As I had off to #NCTE14 in Washington DC this week, I find myself looking forward to many learning opportunities with friends and colleagues from all over the country.  One of the topics I look forward to chatting about is assessment and the multiple ways in which we know our students.

With that in mind, I'd like to share a recent event:

Recently, I made a commitment to have better health, and one aspect of that commitment meant beginning to work with a personal trainer.

Initially, I fretted about the idea of personal training. Someone paying undivided attention to my body seemed overwhelming, but I scheduled my initial evaluation anyway. I grew increasingly anxious the closer the time came for this appointment, when the realization hit that the initial evaluation would probably include gathering numerical data about my body.

In the beginning, my anxiety seemed justified.  It was just as horrible as I had imagined – first the scales, then the BMI number, and finally the tape measure encircling all parts of my body, from head to toes. Though my glasses were off, leaving me unable to read the measurements the trainer actually wrote on the chart, I cringed each time he put his pen to the paper. None of this could be good.

Then something wonderful happened. The tape measure and scale were put away and the trainer began to collect data about my body and health in different ways. First, many questions were asked about my definition of being physically fit, my activity level, enjoyment of movement, family medical history, and any current concerns about health. With each response, the trainer drilled down a bit further, looking for more clarification of my initial answers.

After the interview was completed, the trainer began to observe my movements in space.  He asked me to walk, stand still, raise arms, bend at the waist, and bend at the knees to a squat position multiple times. As I complied, the trainer would carefully, with great focus, observe my movements, and then add his observations about those movements to his paper.

The final portion of the evaluation came when the trainer analyzed and synthesized all the information he had collected about me.  He spent some time in thoughtful reflection, and then shared his analysis. He first mentioned the things going well with my physical health, a short list, but at least a place from which to build. Then, he focused on what he considered to be my most immediate concerns – aligning my spine, working on gaining solid core muscles, and strengthening neck muscles. He shared that once those areas were addressed and in control, we could then focus on other items of concern. But for now, we were going to build a solid foundation for my body and its movements. Using those multiple pieces of data about my body, the trainer then devised my personal plan, and it had clear goals I would be working toward achieving.

While driving home from this initial evaluation, there was an “aha” moment when I realized what Adam, my trainer, had just done was incredibly similar to what I do as a literacy coach with colleagues, and what classroom teachers do with their students every day.

We gather data, and yes, for teachers, several of the pieces of data about students will be numerical in content. But as literacy coaches and educators, we need to push past the numbers, because we are all far more than just a number. As educators, we also need to observe and confer, then analyze what we discover. We should identify the most important need that will help individuals build a solid foundation in their learning. We are then able to make the best coaching or instructional plan for each person. We help our colleagues and students by sharing their strengths with them, and scaffold their learning by setting clear and attainable goals.

I learned a great deal from Adam that day, and it wasn't all about my physical well-being. To get the best picture of an individual in order to help them with positive changes, we need to look at multiple types of information and data. It was what Adam did for me as my trainer, and what I know is best for my colleagues with whom I collaborate as a literacy coach.

Thanks so much to my friends at Two Writing Teachers blog for hosting Slice of Life. I hope to see many of you in DC this week! Head on over to their blog to check out some wonderful writing for Slice of Life Tuesday.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Celebrate! (A day late)

I have much to celebrate lately, so even though this is coming out a day late, I wanted to post anyway.

I am celebrating Family:

  • A week ago, my niece got married, and it brought our entire family together. Our oldest daughter came in from DC, and our youngest daughter chose to spend the nights before and after the wedding at our house, even though she has her own apartment here in town. As a mom, I celebrated that we were all together as a family.
I am celebrating Friends:
  • A close friends' daughter got married yesterday. Even though the day itself was cold and gloomy, the gathering of friends as we celebrated this young couple was a gift. We ate, drank, cried at the father's toast to his daughter and her new husband, danced the night away and laughed. As dancers, we might not look that great, but we sure did have fun -- so much fun that several times, friends of the bride and groom joined our dancing group.  And laughter - what a gift!!  I can't remember the last time I laughed for that many hours on end.
I am celebrating Colleagues:
  • I took on a new role this year, transitioning from the 5th grade classroom to becoming an intermediate literacy coach in 4 of our district's buildings.  My learning curve has been huge, as I now work with adults all day. But similarly to working with students, the satisfaction of helping a colleague scaffold from one learning place to the next is huge cause for celebration.  In addition, I work with 7 other literacy coaches in our district, as well as our brilliant leader.  These women keep me grounded, help guide me into best practices with adult learning, and more importantly, make me laugh.  Every day, I celebrate that these women are now a huge part of my professional life.
I hope you had some thing(s) to celebrate this week. To see what others were celebrating, head on over to Ruth's blog, where she so generously hosts this Celebration event each Saturday.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Choice in Summer Reading

As I join this Sunday Series about Summer Reading, it is only fair to let you know that while I am currently a literacy coach, I taught 5th grade for the past ten years.  I share this information because summer reading is not a topic with which I had to deal.

However, in recent years, I made it a personal crusade to make sure my students, who all embraced reading while in my classroom during the school year, continued their reading lives once they left fifth grade for the summer, where weeks of doing nothing but what they wanted appeared quite delightful to some.

The last week of reading workshop became the time we planned for what our summer reading would be like.  Much like having a 40 Book Challenge (Donalyn Miller) during the school year, for a variety of reasons, students might not be able to achieve everything listed as a goal on their summer reading plan.  That's okay because I knew that having the plan might just be the kickstart they needed to keep reading, rather the end result is two, ten, or thirty books completed.  It beat the number zero every time!

When we developed our plans, we spent time looking at a variety of reading possibilities:

  • the new book release calendar that John Schumaker kindly curates so that they could plan to read new books from favorite authors or series
  • books that were so popular in our class they just didn't get their hands on them
  • rereads of some of our read-alouds
  • online reading
  • audio book reading
  • magazine and newspaper reading
  • trying a genre they had never read before
  • fun, easy on the brain, books
  • the book they chose from the 6th grade summer reading list
The list went on and on.  As students developed their own summer reading plan, tailored just for them by them, I could see the ownership they had in their reading.  Students knew their likes and dislikes, and were basing their summer reading plan on that information.

But here's the thing - because those students moved on to middle school, a new building where I didn't see them, I'm not aware of how those reading plans fared.  It would be wonderful to have a district plan where, each year, we all had students create summer reading plans for themselves, and then had the conversation of how they did with those plans at the beginning of the school year as we begin to learn about our new groups of readers.  Wouldn't the knowledge based on that type of conversation be incredibly helpful at knowing students' reading interests and abilities?

When reading is assigned for the summer, I worry about the readers who do not have the tools to be able to access an understanding of the text.  It is the same argument for why I believe read aloud is a critical part of a child's literacy day - it levels the playing field for those who might not be able to read the text on their own, but if I read it aloud, they can share in the contextual thinking along with everyone else.

Teaching, and in this case teaching literacy, is an art.  So, is it fair to ask students lacking in those skills needed to understand a text, to read something "above their understanding" during the summer?  Wouldn't it better to wait until we could use our "artistry" of teaching to best help them scaffold and understand a piece of literature?

I've rambled a bit today; I apologize.  I do think this is an important conversation to have, and I am thrilled that Lee Ann started it now as she is reflecting on the summer reading her students did.  It could help guide all of us to a better understanding of what are the best practices when it comes to summer reading.  To read more about what others are saying around this topic, check out Lee Ann's blog.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Boom Snot Twitty - #IMWAYR

With a title like Boom Snot Twitty, I'm not sure I need to write a lot more about why I loved this book, but I can't resist.

I was at our public library, and this lovely gem was sitting on the new picture book shelves.  I picked it up for the title and the darling characters illustrated on the front cover, but as I read the book, I realized it had huge potential in the classroom.

Boom Snot Twitty is the story of three friends who are incredibly different in the choices they make in similar circumstances.  Boom is a bear, Twitty is a bird, and Snot is a snail.  Fun with alliteration right off the bat!

But then understanding characters - wow!  This book could carry you far in thinking about that standard with students.  I once heard Dorothy Barnhouse say that when teaching complex ideas and thinking, it is best to start with a simple text and build skills, and then work to applying those complex ideas and thinking with more complex texts.  For that reason, I knew this simple picture book would be perfect in the intermediate classrooms in which I work.

The 3rd grade common core standard, RL.3.3 says: 
"Describe characters in a story (e.g., their traits, motivations, or feelings) and explain how their actions contribute to the sequence of events."

The 4th grade common core standard, RL.4.3 says:
"Describe in depth a character, setting, or event in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g., a character's thoughts, words, or actions)."

The 5th grade common core standard, RL.5.3 says:
"Compare and contrast two or more characters, settings, or events in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g., how characters interact)."

Boom Snot Twitty is a perfect introductory text for all three of these standards.  It is a simple text that will allow 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade readers to access each of them.  Describing characters - check.  Describe in depth a character, drawing on specific details in the text - check.  Compare/contrast two or more characters, drawing on specific details in the text - check.

This is a book I will be both purchasing and recommending to all intermediate grade teachers.

But before I order, I will be reading all the other posts at Jen Vincent's blog, Teach Mentor Texts, to see what other people read and loved this week.  Thanks so much to her for hosting the Kidlit version of #IMWAYR meme.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Reflections on Summer Reading

Recently, my husband and I made a trip from our home in Ohio to visit our eldest daughter in Washington, D.C.  The route we chose took us through the beautiful mountains on I-68 in western Maryland.  There were many up-slopes and down-slopes to navigate as we drove through those mountains.

We noticed that there were not as many semi-trucks on this route as on I-70.  I'm sure there are multiple reasons that is true, but my husband and I began to reflect on the toll the inclines seemed to be taking on the trucks.

When we were driving on an incline, oftentimes the interstate went from two lanes to three lanes, because the trucks seemed to slow to a crawl at times, carrying their loads upward and they needed their own lane.  It was a very laborious process for the trucks; sometimes you could even hear engines "screaming" in protest.

On the downhill slopes, it was another story.  The trucks would begin to pick up speed, and start flying down the hills.

When Lee Ann sent an all-call out last week because she was beginning to reflect on what was happening in classrooms around summer reading, the pictures of those trucks immediately came to mind.

Like most readers, when a text is required of me (and I'm not invested in that requirement), I move pretty darn slow.  I begin to exhibit many avoidance strategies, and my movement through the required text is as slow as those trucks we watched in western Maryland.

However, if the choice is mine, I am flying through the reading.  In the summer, I always have a huge pile of books from the library and I am a carnivore of books - reading all types, quickly jumping from one to the other.

The week before school, I ran into one of my students from last year and her mother.  This student was a voracious reader; she was always reading and had a "to-be-read" pile at all times.  When I asked her what she read this summer, she listed multiple titles, and was very excited about all of them.  But her ending remark was the one that bothered me and the reason I decided to dust off my part of this blog, and post a few things on this Sunday Series about Summer Reading.  The student said she had started her chosen book (out of a list of 4) for her sixth grade summer reading requirement multiple times, but she just wasn't enjoying it, and couldn't seem to get past page 50.  The book she chose is one I love a great deal - I know it's a good book, and she would like it if it had been her choice.  However, she became like one of those trucks - she was struggling to get up the hill of an assigned summer reading.

I truly appreciate the thinking and effort that went into creating the different summer reading lists for our district's middle school; some of the people that helped create these lists are very smart colleagues of mine.  The books they chose are good titles, and most will provide thoughtful discussion around a common story line.  And they did create choice for summer reading - the soon-to-be 6th graders had to read at least 1 book of choice as well as 1 book from the list of 4.

Yet, all that being said, this voracious reader I know, is left feeling frustrated that she can't complete a required text.  As someone who encouraged her love of reading, I worry about that.  Should she be thinking more about the 1 text she didn't complete, or the 30 books she did read over the summer?

I do believe students should be reading - A LOT -  during the summer.
I do believe there is a perfect time for students to share and study a book as an entire class.
I'm just not sure the place to start that study is in the summer.

Now that Lee Ann encouraged me to dust off the blog, I'll be back with some further reflections next  Sunday.  As truth in advertising, I should mention that as an elementary teacher, summer reading isn't a topic with which I had to deal in my classroom.  However, as a parent of children who had required summer reading, I did have an opinion.  But, I will be interested to see how others who are invested in this topic year in and year out, such as middle and high school teachers, weigh in on this topic.  For more of these reflections, head over to Lee Ann's blog, Portable Teacher, to read today's reflections.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Summer Musings - August 12

I have really been thinking about my online presence lately.  In June and the first of July, I was online a great deal, specifically tweeting about amazing learning opportunities.  Then, on July 16, the day after I did some work in Illinois, I stopped most of my professional online activity cold.

For almost a month now, my online presence has found me focused on mostly the social aspect of Facebook, staying caught up with friends' lives, and every once in a while, reading or bookmarking a professional article of interest.

I've missed the last two #titlechats, which is unheard of for me.  I haven't written a blog post, but I have been writing and composing many other pieces.  I didn't even participate in #PB10for10 today.

I think after the flurry of professional activity in June and the beginning of July, I needed to step back, and enjoy some "me" time; I needed time to refresh and renew.  So in the last month, I've read more fun adult books than I can ever share here :), I've spent quality time with my husband, we carved out time to go to DC to visit our eldest, I've taken up knitting again, planned and remodeled two of our bathrooms, and spent much time with friends.  It's been a great summer.

But now it's time to come back professionally.

Last night I participated in my first twitter chat of the summer with the #TWTblog ladies and many other smart educators.  It was incredibly energizing, and has me excited to work with teachers in my new role as literacy coach thinking about writing workshop.  It felt good to be back and having dialogue about important topics.

This week will be a busy one professionally: I will spend time setting up the office I will share with other coaches in one of my buildings, and will also have one more day of coaches' training.  In addition, there are many professional books and articles which still have to be read.  I may even write a belated #PB10for10 post.

And next Sunday, August 17, at 8:00 PM I have the privilege of co-hosting the #nctechat with Lee Ann Spillane.  Our topic will be Building Classroom Community.  What a perfect topic to think about at the beginning of a new school year.

It was wonderful to take a break, but I'm delighted to join my online professional communities again.

Thanks to the ladies at Two Writing Teachers for hosting us on Tuesdays for Slice of Life.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

She's a Teacher Now

For as long as I can remember, our daughter Meredith, has wanted to be a teacher.  I've said here before, she has the thing that can't be taught, she gets kids, so I know she'll be a good one.  Now, her dream has been realized, she accepted a position in Immokalee, Florida, just east of Fort Myers to teach first grade.  We'll be moving her this weekend, and she starts on the following Thursday with the rest of the new teachers in Collier County.  It's bittersweet.  While we are very proud of Meredith and her accomplishments, she's moving 17 hours away and we will miss her, but as parents, that's what we want, we want to raise them with the confidence to chase their dreams and to be happy.  Meredith is doing both and through the tears, the Lovely Mrs. Prosser and I are smiling.

It's given me time to think about what I would tell a first year teacher if they asked, and since not many ask, this is as good a place as any to put my thoughts down.  Feel free to add to my list if you have some valuable piece of advice for a new teacher. 

Respect the experienced teachers.  I don't mean you have to do everything they tell you, but really listen and value their advice.  They know things and even though you may not agree with everything they say, or want to do it exactly how they do, their advice can save you lots of frustration and stress and may save you some time.

Don't live at the school, the job will be there tomorrow.  Work hard, give your school and kids everything you got, but don't forget to take time for yourself.  Balance is key and if you don't have it, you'll burn out.

Be involved.  Over my 30 years I've called Bingo, worked carnival games, played basketball, served as an auctioneer, watched countless soccer games, basketball games, baseball games, recitals, etc.  I've learned that if your school community sees you at events that are important to them, it goes a long way to creating the credibility with parents.  An hour here and there at school events shows you care about your students as people not just faces in your classroom.

Get to know the secretaries.  We all know who runs the office.  Having these folks on your side is always a good idea.  They can get you in to see the principal if you need to, find some extra money in the budget if you need it and just make your day to day life easier if you treat them well.

Have fun.  Our job is hard work, a lot of people don't really get that, but if you don't have fun, it's a long tedious year.  Laugh, play games, sing silly songs, dance funny.  I have always felt if I can get my students to enjoy school, I can teach them anything.

Read! Read! Read!  You have to be up on the new literature so you can share it with your students.  Know the books they like and are reading, even if it's not your favorite genre, read it anyway.  You never know when a book will create that connection to a student that makes a difference.  I don't believe we can create readers if we aren't readers ourselves.

Read aloud everyday.  Find a time to read aloud just for the enjoyment of a good story.  Too many times we read books because they teach something, or reinforce a concept.  Read aloud with the purpose of just enjoying the story together that's how life long readers are created.

There are any number of professional books out there that talk about best practices but these are some things that I wish I had been told in my college classes.  These are things that aren't taught, but can make your life easier and the job more rewarding than the things taught in college.

Good luck, Meredith, I know you'll be great!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

5 Things That Made Me a Reader

I've been going through my old emails, cleaning out the account, and I ran across this that I wrote for James Preller's Fathers Read blog.  As I read it, I realized that it might make a pretty good post here and maybe start some conversation.  I have 5 things, but most of us can pin point one or two events that turned us into readers.  What are yours?

5 things about me as a reader:

1. One of my earliest memories of reading is fourth grade. My teacher Mrs. Moore read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory aloud to us. I was so taken by the story that I talked about it at home all the time. I come from a family of readers, so my parents bought me a copy as a gift and my mother and I took turns reading it aloud to one another. It's still one of my favorite childhood memories and I'm sure it's a large part of where I am today, sharing books with kids for a living.

2. I grew up in a small town, but we had a great library. In summers, my neighbor, Susie, and I would walk to the library at the beginning of the week, check out a stack of books, and walk home. We'd spend a large part of each day sitting on my front porch reading. The next week we would walk to the library, exchange our books and start all over again. We did this without any sort of prize offerings or other incentives, just because we loved books. My favorites were the junior biographies. I must have read every one on the shelf, some of them several times. It introduced me to George Washington Carver, a man I am still amazed by to this day. I still love to read a good biography.

3. My family of readers goes back a couple of generations. My grandfather, Pop Davis, lived with my family for several years before he passed away. He was a reader! He loved westerns and baseball. On summer evenings he could be found sitting in his chair reading a book, listening to one baseball game while watching another. He was truly a multi-tasker and an example of a man who loved to read.

4. My father is also an avid reader. Growing up he read when he could, always pouring over the local news, squeezing a book in when he had time, but always encouraging my sisters and I to read. Today, in retirement, he has kind of taken over my trips to the library. He and Mom make at least a weekly trip to the library, usually focusing on an author. They will check out everything by an author, read it, trade it, and then return them. Typically they won't move on until they have finished everything available by the chosen author. To this day they are great examples of readers and book lovers.

5. My current reading habits revolve around finding things for the library. Occasionally I slip an adult book in, but mostly it's kid stuff. It is interesting how books for kids have evolved. They are much deeper and better written today. Kids today are much more sophisticated then Susie and I were. They have higher expectations than we did and authors are competing for their attention. We didn't have video games, internet, cable television or the level of organized sports that kids have today, so books provided our entertainment.

I realize now that this list isn't so much about me as a reader, but a history of what made me a reader.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Summer Reading Begins on the Bus

I just returned from my second trip to Boston and after a good night's sleep, I'm ready to begin my summer for real!  I haven't really felt like I was on summer break yet because the Monday after we finished, I started meeting with the 120 students I would be taking to Beantown over two weekends.  Both weekends went well and the kids and chaperones all came home tired, a sign of a successful trip!

The first weekend I took 79 students, two bus loads for the first time ever.  Unfortunately rained everyday but Sunday but the kids didn't allow it to dampen their spirits and toured like champs, never complaining and always engaged in the learning.  The second weekend included 43 kids and the weather couldn't have been better, mid 70s and sunny every day.  So even with the tale of two weekends, they couldn't have been more different weather wise, there is always a LOOOOOONG bus ride involved, which allows for lots of reading.

On the first weekend, I took Revolution by Deborah Wiles.  It's the long awaited follow up to Countdown in her 60s trilogy.  I love what she does with this book and when you consider what is included in each volume, it's understandable why so much time passed between titles.  They are truly a multi disciplinary study of important events that helped shape the 60s.  Countdown was a look at the events surrounding the Cuban Missile Crisis and Revolution is a study of Freedom Summer in Mississippi.

Revolution is the story of Sunny Fairchild and her newly blended family which includes a step mother, Annabelle, who she doesn't like and a step brother, Gillette, who she is very close to.  They live in Greenwood, Mississippi, a hot bed of the civil rights movement and equal voting rights for the African Americans living there. 

Sunny is torn, she sees both sides of the argument, but has been raised in a culture that really clouds her vision and makes it hard for her to accept that things are changing.  She just wants everybody to stay the same so that her life can stay the same.  After the Civil Rights Act is passed she wants to swim in the public pool, but it closes to keep the black kids from enjoying it too, she wants to go to the movie theater where her Uncle Parnell works, but her father says it's not safe when African American kids start going there too.  Everything is changing and she is not happy.

When her step-mother begins to work for the rights of all, holding meetings in their house of like minded women, and Sunny's life is turned upside down.  Through a series of interactions with the college students working for voting rights, she calls them "the invaders", Sunny begins to really see that there are two sides to every argument, and change isn't bad when so many benefit from it. 

As always, Deborah Wiles creates characters and situations that draw readers in and keep them there.  Between chapters of fiction, she gives the reader biographies of people who played important roles in the movement.  Some of them I was familiar with and some it was the first I had heard of them.  She includes pictures and poetry and song from the events in Mississippi.  She includes primary documents put out by both sides, the Civil Rights workers and the KKK, which are very disturbing.

I really like the book and learned many things that I didn't know about the events in Mississippi.  It's a high level book and I will put it in the library but only recommend it to my mature readers.  It will take a really good student to get through this one, and is probably more suited to middle and high school, but for the rare student who gets it, this is an important read.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Celebrate! - June 21

The biggest celebration for me this week was #AllWrite14, and everything that entailed:

  • Over seven round-trip hours of lively conversation about professional and personal lives.  Thanks so much Josie, MaryLee, and Karen for taking that journey with me.
  • Being with my tweeps from around the country, learning, laughing, and talking for hours.  You know you are and I am so grateful for each and every one of you!!
  • On MaryLee's nudge, finding this amazing shop, MudLove (check it out at  I bought two pieces of amazing pottery hand-crafted by them.  The friends I shopped with bought many inspirational bracelets (what they are really known for), but I didn't think a bracelet would look good on me, so I passed. 
  • My surprise and delight the very next day, when receiving a gift of the afore-mentioned bracelets from one of my Long Island tweeps.  It says "inspire" and will be a guiding word for me as I embrace my literacy coach position this next year.  I was incredibly touched by her generosity, and it fit perfectly!!
  • Learning from brilliant educators such as Franki Sibberson, Stephanie Harvey, Cris Tovani, Colby Sharp, Donalyn Miller, Kristin Ziemke, and Kelly Gallagher.  My brain is packed with wonderful wisdom from each of them.
  • Time - time to meet with my professional learning network and talk about celebrations and ways we want to refine our own teaching and learning.  Time built into presentations to turn and talk which allowed me to dig in even deeper to the topics.  Time to talk about great books.  Time to think with and talk to friends and colleagues from my own school district that I don't always have.  Time to do a little sightseeing and shopping.  
  • Lunch on the last day with someone who is incredibly dear to me.  I consider her a mentor in so many ways and couldn't have been happier to spend time together.
  • One of the pottery purchases
    My MudLove bracelet
  • Thinking about "gritty celebrations" after Ruth's brilliant keynote.
I came home yesterday rejuvenated and proud to call myself an educator, a teacher, and a learner.

For more celebrations, hop on over to Ruth's blog.  Thanks so much to Ruth for hosting us each week!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Celebrate - June 14

Several things have made me very happy this week, and were each a cause for celebration:

1) Coaches' Training - I spent four and a half days in training for literacy and numeracy coaches this week.  Two of the days were specifically geared toward the technology tools we were given to help in our jobs and how to best use them for productivity and sharing of knowledge.  The rest of our time was spent on clarifying the vision we will all have as coaches, planning for our first cycle of coaching, and valuable time was spent getting to know one another, as well as our administrators.  I am so blessed to work with such a unique group of talented people.  The bonds we built this week will be beneficial as we work through this new journey together.

2) Lunch - Many of us ate out together for all 4 days of whole-day training.  Any educator reading this post understands how lovely this was.  Not to mention, the conversations we had that were so meaningful, both personal and professional.  An hour together each day in a relaxed setting, with great food was a true gift.

3) Weeding - I came home from our half day session on Friday to find that the man who does our edging, weeding, trimming, and mulching was here.  Our beds had become disasters, overgrown with weeds, and because poison ivy is so prevalent, I am no longer able to weed without becoming a swollen, itchy mess.  So I was delighted to see him and see all the work he had already accomplished.  As much time as I spend sitting on our screened porch, having lovely beds to look at makes the porch even more of an oasis of peace for me.

4) Porches and Patios Tour - Several years ago, some educator friends from varying districts started getting together to talk about technology, our classrooms, and our lives.  Our conversations originally were centered around the queso dip we all loved.  It has morphed into something altogether different now.  In the winter, we gather at our favorite Mexican restaurant to share queso and talk, but in the summer, we begin what we like to call our Porches and Patios Tour.  In this tour, we circulate our meetings to our various porches and patios.  Great food yesterday, followed by our summer staple, Handel's ice cream.  Smart women, great conversations, LOTS of laughter,

wonderful food = lovely afternoon.

5) AllWrite - Looking ahead just a bit, I am very excited to be headed to Warsaw, Indiana, for AllWrite this next Wednesday.  Another favorite staple of summer will happen then - #carPD!

Thanks for stopping by - I hope there were celebrations in your week as well.  For more celebrations, visit Ruth Ayres' blog.  Thanks so much to Ruth for hosting this happy celebration event each Saturday!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Celebrate! - June 7

I am celebrating several things this week:

1) Tuesday became my official first day of summer break.  I loved my students and we learned so much together this year, but there is a joy that accompanies the flexibility of a summer schedule.  Exercise when I want, including that 8:30 AM yoga class with the instructor I love.  Going to Book Club in the middle of the afternoon.  Breakfast with a friend.  Time to do errands, make phone calls, schedule appointments.  Time to sit on the screened porch and read.

2) My birthday present arrived this week, and is now on our screened porch.  I love this loveseat, and all the promises it offers of friends gathering, great book reading and cozy nap taking.

3) I went Thursday night to one of the many premieres offered at our local theatre for The Fault in Our Stars.  My youngest daughter pre-ordered our tickets, we munched happily on popcorn, and then got lost in the wonderful-ness of this movie, complete with buckets of tears.

One of my mentor text areas
4) After 2 1/2  full days, my living room went from a war zone, where not an inch of carpet was visible, and there were piles of books and supplies on every piece of furniture, to two separate areas of mentor texts, with all my professional books on the very sturdy bookshelf in our actual den.  Such a hard job, but this space now allows me to focus on helping teachers meet readers and writers' needs next year in reading and writing workshop.

Purchases from Cover to Cover
Thanks to Mandy for this picture!
5) On Friday, I gathered with fellow Columbus area bloggers for breakfast and book buying at our wonderful local independent children's bookstore, Cover to Cover.  As Mandy mentions, it can become a dangerous proposition to be in a room with that many book lovers, as well as the wonderful staff at CTC, and try to stick to any type of a book budget.  I cherish our times together.

Thanks for stopping by - I hope there were celebrations in your week as well.  For more celebrations, visit Ruth Ayres' blog.  Thanks so much to Ruth for hosting this happy celebration event each Saturday!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Reading Success! - #endofschoolyeargratitude

Today, I am going to let the pictures speak for themselves:

50 readers.
1,080 books read in one class.
1,404 books read in the other class.
2,484 books read altogether.
We had a range of 19 - 200 books read per person.
We averaged 49.68 books per person.
Each person read at least 15 more books than they had the year before.

This is data worth celebrating!  These numbers share that readers lived in room 206 this past year.   Reading success, indeed.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Teachers Love Books - #endofschoolgratitude

I wrote yesterday about the Great Book Giveaway with my students, and the subsequent autographs they asked me to do; I felt like such a rock star!

Two days later, right after the kids left for the day, I hosted a book sale in my room for the teachers in our building - $1 for hardbacks, $0.50 for paperbacks.  My thought process was still about getting these books into the hands of as many student readers as possible.  Since I knew I would not be going back to the classroom, this was the second best way to accomplish that task.

As emotional as the first day was, this day brought its own set of emotions, and right off the bat, there were moments of hilarity.  You know the pictures of brides-to-be lined up outside Filene's before a wedding dress sale?  Well imagine a much shorter line, yet still quite as determined.  The first person in line had her roller cart, ready to make some great choices.  The second person in line saw her come down, grabbed the nearest container, and hustled down the hall.  They were cracking me up.

That laughter helped me quite a bit because as every book left my room, I felt a little pang of panic inside.  Was I doing the right thing?  Should I be holding on to more of my books?  Each book came with a memory - a class with whom I had shared it, the person who had recommended it to me, a review I had written about it, a special message it gave me, a favorite character, a favorite author whom I now consider a friend.  The list goes on and on.  I realized that having books is quite a personal thing for me.  But, I had to hold on to the idea that the books would be put in students' hands; just not my students.

As I continued to look around the room while teachers were perusing/buying, it brought me a sense of peace.  I watched as teachers thoughtfully looked through the selections, asking me questions about books unknown to them.  One teacher, currently an intervention specialist, will have a 4th grade classroom next year.  She was there to do some serious shopping.  Another colleague was leaving first grade and will be in a third grade classroom; she was shoring up her book collection.  There were several second year teachers and one first year teacher.  And I haven't even mentioned the veteran teachers who just wanted some new titles!

When it was all said and done, the last person left my room at 6:30; she "shopped" for almost 3 hours.   I loved how important it was for all these teachers to get good books into students' hands next year.  So, yes I still miss some of those books, but I know some child will thoroughly enjoy them next year.

And in case you were wondering, no one asked for an autograph on this particular afternoon. :)

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Fan Signing - #endofschoolyeargratitude

I won't be a classroom teacher again where a community is built from Day 1 of the school year, and we begin our lives as readers and writers together that same day.  A friend predicted there would be many "ugly cries" as we left our respective buildings, and she was so right.  But what lies ahead is good; it just won't be in "my" classroom.  I will be one of several literacy coaches in the district next year, working beside teachers in their workshops.

So, as the school year drew to an end, I was both savoring every moment with my classes, as well as frantically packing to leave my classroom.  But now, two days after the end of school, I find myself filled with gratitude for what some of the last few days and weeks at my school held in store for me.  In these next few posts, I would like to share moments that I'm labeling #endofschoolyeargratitude.

The first moment came from the Great Book Giveaway in our classes.  Knowing that I had such a multitude of books, and no place to put them (I will be traveling between four buildings next year), I first culled out the books from my personal library I would still need as mentor texts or great read alouds as I work alongside teachers next year.  But after that, I was puzzled as to what to do until I came up with the idea of the Great Book Giveaway.

I scheduled this event in my lesson plans on the same day I knew we would be formulating summer reading plans.  I had explained what would happen to the kids a few weeks before the event, so they would have time to make a "wish list" to help guide them when their name was picked.  The first round, I encouraged students to choose a favorite chapter book or one they were dying to read.  The second round, they were choosing from picture books (fiction or nonfiction), poetry, or graphic novels.   The final two rounds were from books they had never seen - books and ARCs that had been sitting in my house or in the cupboards, and for one reason or another had never seen the light of day this year.

Needless to say, happiness and excitement reigned in our classroom that day.  Fifty students had developed into readers that sighed when a book they were hoping for got chosen first, and who clutched their eventual prize to their chest in sheer happiness.  As a teacher of readers, it was delightful.

The signing...
Then, the funniest darned thing happened - after all the rounds were done and students had 4 "new" books in their possession, a group of them came to me and asked for my autograph in their book.  Remember the "ugly cries" I talked about earlier -- this was one of them.  I burst into tears and laughter at the same time.  This group had a simple rationale - they wanted me to inscribe a book they would be keeping so they could keep the memory of me.  Sweet, right?!

So, after summer plans were made, this group of students came to me with their books, and from there, it snowballed... everyone wanted a signature.

I signed 200 books that day, and to look at students' faces, it meant the world to them.

So yes, I am filled with #endofschoolyeargratitude as I think about how important books became to this community of readers.
What students did after their summer
plans and the signing...