Sunday, September 11, 2016

OCDANIEL- Wesley King

Daniel is maybe a more typical middle school kid than most kids would like to admit. He's smart, gifted even. He is writing a book. His best friend, Max, is a talented athlete. Daniel is not a talented athlete, but plays backup kicker on the football team. Mostly that means he fills in when the water boy is gone. He plays because his father, brother Steve, and best friend, Max, all love football. And Daniel has a crush on a cute and popular girl named Raya.

Daniel is not like all the other kids in some ways. He suffers from something he calls the Zaps. The Zaps make him do crazy things, such as like some numbers and not like others, flick light switches, and sometimes have weird attacks at school. He also has a routine he does every single night, that involves taking so many steps to the bathroom, brushing his teeth a certain number of strokes, wiping the rim of the toilet, drying his hands on a specific towel. He can't sleep until he has done the routine perfectly. Sometimes that takes several hours.

Daniel's life takes an unexpected twist when a girl named Sara, who the kids at school call "Psycho" befriends him. Sara has a special aide who accompanies her to all of her classes. Even so, sometimes she melts down in class and has to be removed. Sara needs Daniel's help in finding out who killed her dad the year before. It is Sarah, who tells Daniel that his Zaps have an actual name.

Author's notes reveal that this book is partly autobiographical. There is information about Obssessive Compulsive disorder and resources to get more information.

A book lots of middle schoolers and high schoolers will love. And a book that some kids will need.

Saturday, September 10, 2016


Trying to get back into blogging a little more regularly…

Frederick Lipton, the actor, and Mr. Pip, the monkey are best friends. When Frederick’s birthday rolls around, Mr. Pip can’t wait to give Frederick a special, handmade card. Because Frederick is so famous, he receives a number of other gifts- including a solid gold car from the sultan of Brunei and an invitation to dinner at the White House and Mr. Pip can’t find a time to give Frederick his simple present. 

Mr. Pip becomes very sad and Frederick is concerned. He takes Mr. Pip to every vet in town; they all say he is fine, but Frederick is not convinced. He finally leaves him at the Guild of Geniuses, where four of the smartest people in the world hold court. The geniuses try everything they know, including bringing in other monkeys especially from Africa, as well as sending Mr. Pip into space, but nothing works. Will Mr. Pip’s problem ever be solved?

A terrific primary grade book about friendship. And wisdom. And things that matter. 

Monday, September 5, 2016

THEY ALL SAW A CAT- Brendan Wenzel

The cat walks through the world,
with its whiskers, ears, and paws…

A child saw the cat.
A dog saw the cat.
The fox saw a cat
The fish saw a cat
A mouse saw a cat
A bee saw the cat
A  bird saw the cat
A flea saw the cat
A snake saw the cat
A skunk saw the cat
A worm saw the cat
A bat saw the cat

But they all saw the cat very differently.

A gorgeous new picture book that would be absolutely terrific for introducing a unit on point of view or perspective! And the illustrations are interesting enough that I think the book could get a look from the Caldecott Committee!

An added bonus: Emily Arrow has written a song to go with THEY ALL SAW A CAT!

Friday, August 19, 2016

Poetry Friday

“Dear students, the summer has ended.
The school year at last has begun.
But this year is totally different.
We’re going to only have fun.
“We won’t study any mathematics,
and recess will last all day long.
Instead of the pledge of allegiance,
we’ll belt out a rock-and-roll song.
“We’ll only play games in the classroom.
You’re welcome to bring in your toys.
It’s okay to run in the hallways.
It’s great if you make lots of noise.
“For homework, you’ll play your Nintendo.
You’ll have to watch lots of T.V.
For field trips we’ll go to the movies
and get lots of candy for free.
“The lunchroom will only serve chocolate
and triple fudge sundaes supreme.”
Yes, that’s what I heard from my teacher
before I woke up from my dream.
Kenn Nesbitt

There’s a new ME this year,
An on-time ME,
A clean-desk ME,
A first-to-hand-in-assignments ME,
A listens-in-class-to-the-teacher ME,
A teacher’s-pet-for-the-first-time-in-my-life ME,
An-always-willing-to-be-good-and help-out ME,
A dead-serious-get-the-work-done-and-hand-it-in
Before-it’s-due ME.
The problem is
The new ME
Is not like ME
At all.
Kalli Dakos

POETRY FRIDAY is at Dori Reads

Saturday, August 13, 2016


Super, super, super late to this party, and I don't even really have a theme, but I still don't want to miss out completely. These are just books that I am looking forward to sharing with kids when we go back next week. 

My guys would have appreciated this book about all different kinds of families when they were little!

Love this new book about the names. I'm delighted to have another book to pair with Kevin Henkes' CHRYSANTHEMUM!

Ian is a rule follower. His big sister Jenny is not (and she is a pincher besides!). The family goes to a cabin in the woods, where they are instructed not to open a specific door. Jenny opens it anyway and lets a whole group of monsters into the house. Ian is faced with the difficult dilemma of whether he should save his sister. 

A perfect beginning of the year (and maybe later too) about friends who fight, but then also care enough about each other to make up! 

A fun fairy tale adaptation for my dual language school!

Terrific mentor text for little guys just learning to write informative texts!

A little girl desperately misses her mom, who is in jail for violating immigration laws. After one particularly difficult visit, her mom starts sending tape recordings of bedtime stories. So many of my kiddos will connect to this book.

A picture book biography, told in first person, about Maria Tharp, the woman who mapped the ocean floor. Talk about growth mindset- phew!

Another biography- this is about Edith Houghton, a ten-year-old girl who played on a women's professional baseball team.

Gotta have at least one poetry picture book!

Friday, July 22, 2016


Many years ago, Don Graves introduced me to the work of Parker J. Palmer and his book THE COURAGE TO TEACH. On his website, Palmer describes himself this way:
Parker J. Palmer, founder and Senior Partner of the Center for Courage & Renewal, is a world-renowned writer, speaker and activist who focuses on issues in education, community, leadership, spirituality and social change. He has reached millions worldwide through his nine books, including Let Your Life Speak, The Courage to Teach, A Hidden Wholeness, and Healing the Heart of Democracy.
For the past few years, I have followed Parker J. Palmer on Facebook. He is someone who helps me focus and stay calm, when the world seems crazy and unbearable. In the past week or so, he has had a couple of poems that I have loved.  I gave you the beginning and the end, then a link for the whole poem.

A man crosses the street in rain
stepping gently, looking two times north and south,
because his son is asleep on his shoulder.

No car must splash him.
No car drive too near his shadow…

We're not going to be able
to live in this world
if we're not willing to do what he's doing
with one another
Naomi Shihab Nye
Read the rest of the poem here.
Another one I loved was "Sometimes" by David Whyte. You can read that poem here. 
Poetry Friday is at Book for Learning today.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

#cyberPD- DIY Literacy- Chapters 3 and 4

For about the past five summers, I have participated in #cyberPD. This year, we are reading DIY Literacy: Teaching Tools for Differentiation, Rigor, and Independence. I'm way, way, way behind in my posts, but better late than never, right?

Lots to think about in chapters three and four. First, I thought about myself and my teaching. I loved this quote: Last paragraph on page 51. It is tempting to fall into the trap of getting exasperated when students do not remember past teaching. Before we know it, we have rolled our eyes and said, "But I already taught you that!" However, as educators from Chris Lehman to M. Colleen Cruz remind us, if we had really taught it, then kids would be able to do it. They would have learned. I'm thinking about using that at the bottom of emails at the beginning of the year. I may or may not do it-- a little worried that it might be too accusatory and might put some folks on the defensive, but I definitely want to post it somewhere where I will remember to look at it every day.

I continue to be intrigued by the idea of micro-progressions. Thinking that it might be true that before I can create microprogressions, I need to really decide which reading and writing skills are the most important for kids to learn in each unit. I do lots of backward planning with teachers. We work really hard at deciding what we want students to know and be able to do. This year, I want to work harder at creating microprogresions and charts to go with those strategies and skills. Maybe the most important thing about deciding which skills we are going to teach is deciding which lessons and skills are NOT important to learn. And then NOT teaching those.

After we decided exactly what we wanted to teach, Kate and Maggie's question, "What evidence of my teaching do I see in this student work?" seems like it would be a logical next step. I could see using the question, during data team meetings. I wonder what it would be like to say, "OK, so you taught X this week during writers' workshop?" Bring your student notebooks and let's look for evidence of your teaching. How many kids have got it? How many kids are on the way but need a little more support? And how many kids are not using that skill at all? How might looking through that lens change us as teachers?

 I also wonder how this question might work as a tool for coaching. I see this on two levels. First, I see myself stepping away from a teacher's classroom and asking myself, "What evidence of my coaching do I see in this teacher's work?" I work with some teachers where I could answer that question easily, but then I work with some teachers where I don't think that's necessarily true. Even after four years, I don't see much evidence of my work in their teaching. And I wonder what I need to change. A couple of ideas come to mind, e.g. I need to be more deliberate about helping teachers set goals for our work together, both long term and short term. And we need to revisit those goals often.

Process chart vs. Repertoire chart 
I have been surprised, over the past four years, at how much I have enjoyed working with our middle school students. If I had to describe these kiddos  in one word, I would choose "wonderful" but I would also have to admit that most of the time, they are also more than a little scattered. And they move from room to room, which makes them even more scattered I'm trying to think how our middle school team could set up some kind of notebook (not sure whether it would be a physical notebook or a digital notebook), where kids would keep some kind of replica of the processes/strategies they have learned. It might even be pictures on their phones. Could the repertoire charts go on a bookmark and then they could refer to a wall chart or page in their notebooks for the actual process? How do I help teachers physically incorporate the step of asking kids to look at the chart before they start to read, and to assess themselves on how they used it afterwards?

Chapter 4- Rigor
I had to admit that I was more than a little reluctant to read this chapter. Rigor is all the rage in Colorado right now, or at least in my district. Unfortunately, most of the time it falls into the first category described in DIY Literacy, "The first (type of rigor) focuses on the difficulty of the task that students are being asked to accomplish. There are many ways to make the task more rigorous: elevate the text complexity, raise the standards, increase the volume of writing... yet a conversation around rigor that centers on the difficulty of the task or text leaves out the performance, engagement and agency of the learner" (54). Kids are asked to read really, really hard, and also really, really boring texts (think along the lines of LITTLE WOMEN), that most adults would never, in a million years, choose to read, let alone write about; then after they sort of read them, they are expected to write reading responses and/or essays comparing them. Kids totally disengage, and then we complain that their thinking is not rigorous.

I am much more comfortable with Roberts' and Beattie Roberts second definition of rigor, "Alternatively, we focus on the second form of rigor as a description of a behavior rather than a description of a task. Rigor is performative-- it is a stance, an action, a state of being that is taken to move through the world, tackle tasks, or work toward a goal. And when we focus on the work and effort that students put into tackling a task and not just the task itself, we create opportunities to really see what's difficult for kids" (54). They go on to say, "Rigor has at least two components: (1) The difficulty of the task at hand and (2) the persistence and dedication of the students working toward that task. Without this second layer, it won't matter how advanced our instruction is or isn't; if the kids aren't working hard, there is no rigor (69). I wonder how I can work these ideas into conversations at my school and district.

I also love the idea that "Rigor is relative. It's important to honor the fact that rigor looks different from classroom to classroom and from kid to kid. What is simply a breeze for one student is a mountain of difficulty for another. We miss the mark if we only talk about rigor as a monolithic, static thing (66). What's rigorous for one kid, may not be rigorous for another. If we truly are differentiating, if we truly have adopted a growth mindset way of thinking, then we need to help teachers and kids define rigor, and work toward that, for themselves.

Finally, I'm intrigued by Cathy Mere's comments during the Twitter chat last week. Cathy talked about the microprogressions as a tool for professional development, then followed up with this thinking in her post last week. .My district has begun using exemplars more heavily as a tool for data meetings. I wonder, though, whether microprogressions might also play some kind of a role in these meetings.

This thinking feels big and unformed, but it's pretty much where I am right now. I hope that's ok....