Tuesday, February 28, 2012


I come across the book trailer for POPEYE AND ELVIS in an early morning blog stroll. The trailer, which lasts about 1 minute and 30 seconds, contains photographs of many scenes from the book- a map of South Carolina, a picture of a rural path in a wooded area, an RV, and a YooHoo boat. Uriel*, one of my fourth graders, an English Language Learner, is about halfway through POPEYE. I think he might enjoy this trailer, so I bookmark it and send the link to my email at school.

Then forget about it. Until he says to me, "I finished POPEYE AND ELVIS this weekend. I need something else to read. Do you know where is that frog book (he is talking about OWEN JESTER, another Barbara O'Connor novel),"

"Oh my gosh, Uriel, I forgot! I have something to show you."

Uriel and I sit together at the computer and watch the book trailer. I ask, "What do you think?"

"I didn't picture all those trees," he says. "I just pictured water and a bridge going over it." This is interesting to me, given that a good number of scenes in the book, as I remember, take place on hikes in the woods. It makes total sense, though, given that Denver, and especially the urban area where I WORK, doesn't have many (any?) wooded areas. And also given that Uriel, a very talented athlete, spends most of his weekends playing soccer at fields, not hiking in the mountains.

"Can I watch it again?" We hit replay and Uriel watches the book trailer a second time.

My encounter with Uriel gets me thinking. Or maybe confirms some things I have already been thinking about since our state reading convention in early February. At the convention, Sharon Taberski talked about the importance of background knowledge in reading comprehension. Taberski said that when kids have trouble comprehending, we are quick to wonder what strategy we should teach them, when actually most of the time, students'  problems with comprehension are probably related to a lack of background knowledge. Taberski encouraged us to concentrate on building students' background knowledge and teaching kids to access that knowledge before and during their reading process. Taberski's session made me think Frank Smith's comment that reading is "only incidentally visual."

My students, more than half English language learners, don't have the background knowledge of their more affluent peers. That's not to say they don't have rich lives. Uriel comes from a large extended family-he has a mom and dad, an older sister, at least one nephew (a two-year-old biter who regularly leaves teeth marks on Uriel). Uriel travels all over the city playing soccer every weekend. He's a smart kid, a sweet and gentle kid, one of those "old souls" whose deep thoughtfulness regularly leaves me wondering, "Where did that come from?"

Uriel is a fairly good reader, on grade level, likes to read, takes books home, always has a book going. And yet even this really bright, really talented little guy could use a "background knowledge boost." I wonder how I might make use of book trailers as a pre-reading strategy with my readers. We have already used "read the blurb" or "talk to someone who has already read the book," but now, what if a new "getting ready to read" strategy might be "look at a book trailer?" Hmmmm…

This fact is driven home later in the day during read aloud. The word "jack-o-lantern" comes up and Uriel raises his hand. "I forget," he says. "What does that mean?" And I am more than a little surprised that Uriel, who I would describe as one of my more proficient English language learners, doesn't remember this relatively simple vocabulary word. Then I try to remember the Spanish word for jack-o-lantern, and realize that the best I can come up with is "pumpkin with a face."

Teaching-- definitely a profession where you get to think and grow every single day…

* not his real name

Thursday, February 23, 2012


Kindness (or lack thereof) has been a theme in my life recently. My teenagers can be, and often are, mean, the kind of mean that makes you feel like someone socked you in the stomach, hard. My fourth graders, no matter how much I try to teach them otherwise, can be really, really unkind. And I'm in the middle of a job hunt, for the third school year in a row…

Last weekend, I read WONDER by R.J. Palacio. If you have not read it, run, don't walk to the closest bookstore and buy it, then carve out a few hours to hunker down and read, because you won't be able to put it down. And then I read Mary Lee's post on Empathy. Then somehow, that same day, I wandered over to Amy Ludwig VanDerwater's Poem Farm, and found a lovely poem about kindness, which I shared with my fourth graders that day. Amy shared the link to "Kindness" by Naomi Shihab Nye. Nye has been one of my favorite poets for a long time, but I didn't know this poem…

Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.…

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

Jone is hosting POETRY FRIDAY at CHECK IT OUT.


We are about ten days from our state's big event. I'm feeling more than a little inadequate, like my kids are never going to be ready, that I have not taught them anything, that none of them are going to be proficient, And I just need to breathe and laugh, and remember Ruth Ayres very, very wise words:
Most importantly, I understand the child matters more than a score on a test.

And so I approach test prep from this stance. I want children to face that test, with confidence and hope and a warrior’s spirit. I want them to know they know the things they need to succeed. I want them to be bold and trust themselves. I want them to believe they are the kinds of people who perform well on tests.

This happens through workshop teaching — not gimmicks or drill and practice worksheets. When students have time to write and read in authentic ways, on topics of their interest and choosing, then they develop the skills they need to succeed on standardized tests.

This week, my involvement in test prep is to help young writers realize all they know about writing — and to believe this is more than enough for them to be successful on a standardized test. We will make charts about the things we know as writers, and students will claim strategies for themselves. They’ll practice using craft and conventions. They’ll smile about the things they can do. This is our focus…the things they can do — not the ways they are falling short. And they will face the test feeling encouraged and loved.

If you have not read her post on test prep, you really need to head over to TWO WRITING TEACHERS and read the whole thing here.

Thanks, Ruth, for this oh so important, oh so true, reminder!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


What counts as a conversation at our house.

"Hello," says Son #2 as he strides through the door about 6:10.

He heads straight for the kitchen, grabs what, in my most families,
would be a family-sized bag of Cool Ranch Doritos.
In our house it's a serving.
Or sometimes a half a serving.

"I made ribs," I say.
That's code for,
"Please do not an entire six or eight serving bag of doritos right now."

Son #2 puts the bag of Doritos back on top of the refrigerator.

"They ready?" he says, turning on heel.

"About another half hour, I got home late."

Son grabs the Doritoes again and heads for his room.

I stand in the hall doorway.

"So tell me about the practice," I say.
He has been invited to play on a new 7 on 7 team.
Another mom has told me they will practice for a month,
then go to Los Angeles for a tournament over spring break.

"When do you leave?"

"I don't know," he says.
"But we're flying."

"And you need new running shoes?" I ask.
(That info from his really favorite way of corresponding- texting in the middle of my workday).

"Yeah," he says,
"I need bigger ones."
Bigger than a size 16?
Ka-ching, ka-ching.

"Who was there?"
I ask, the mom in me hungry for details.
"I don't know," he says,
"just the usual."

I am still wishing for more details. I name a few names to see if I can get him to respond.
Taylor? Jason? Shahid?

(My mom's heart twinging just a little because Son #1,
headed to junior college to play football in the fall,
is no longer considered a high school player
and is no longer eligible.
The usual has always included the two of them).

"I don't know," he says,
pushing the door shut with his toe.

"How much longer until dinner is ready?"

Monday, February 20, 2012


My motto in life, "When the going gets tough, the tough get reading." And so I read a lot this weekend…

Hazel is a sixteen-year-old girl who has spent most of her teenage years been battling cancer that started in her thyroid and metastasized to her lungs. At a cancer support group, she meets osteosarcoma survivor, Augustus (Gus) Waters. Although Hazel has determined that she will not allow anyone to be close to her (she likens herself to a human grenade who will explode and cause pain in people's lives), Gus soon convinces her otherwise. A gorgeously written, very realistic (or at least it seems realistic) novel about teenagers living life with laughter and joy and courage in the face of really tough odds. Note to my elementary teacher friends: This is definitely YA- upper middle school and high school.

WONDER is another book that everyone is talking about (and should be). I downloaded it on Netgalley and read it in one sitting, then ran out and bought it today, planning to start it as a fourth grade read aloud on Wednesday. WONDER is the story of ten-year-old August, who was born with serious facial deformities. Because he has had to undergo many surgeries, he has always been home schooled. Now, in the fifth grade, his parents think he is ready to attend school with everyone else. Auggie has mixed feelings, mostly because he has spent his entire life with people staring at him and saying unkind things. Told through the eyes of several different people, including Auggie, his sister Via (short for Olivia), Olivia's boyfriend Justin, Olivia's former best friend Miranda, and Jack, a child who becomes one of Auggie's best friends at school. So much to love about this book- the varying voices of narrators, beautiful writing, but most of all, the messages of kindness and caring and courage. I can't wait to share this with my kids on Wednesday, I think we have a lot to learn from Auggie.

The third book I read this weekend was WHERE YOU LEFT ME, by Jennifer Gardner Trulson. Jennifer Gardner was a former lawyer, the wife of Doug Gardner, and the mom of five-year-old Michael and Julia, age 2, when 9/11 changed her life forever. Doug, an executive at Cantor Fitzgerald, was killed, and Julia had to remake her life without him. Her children, especially her daughter, were very young, and Trulson wanted to preserve their dad's memory, so she started keeping a journal and recording her memories on a hand held tape recorder. WHERE YOU LEFT ME also chronicles the development of her relationship with her second husband, Derek Trulson.

Finally, I'm reading STILL: NOTES ON A MID-FAITH CRISIS by Lauren F. Winner. I read Winner's faith memoir, GIRL MEETS GOD several years ago. A week or two ago, I read that Winner had a new book, STILL: NOTES ON A MID-FAITH CRISIS. The reviewer likened Winner's newest book to that of Anne LaMott, who is one of my favorite writers. Of course I immediately had to download the book. Winner has, in the last few years, gone through a divorce and pretty much journeyed away from God, and then is in the process of rethinking what she believes. I'm only about a third of the way in, but am totally enjoying her honesty and faith journey.

Next week's reading, I hope:

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


A super busy day…
Determined that my students would have fun…
Would be allowed to be nine and ten year olds
on Valentine's Day,
despite the fact
that we are three weeks
from our state's "blessed event"
and have lots and lots and lots to learn.

And so I get up early,
Type up my lesson plans-
Make sure I can justify
every single thing we do

Idioms with
Amy K. Rosenthal's new book,
no problem,
nothing better for getting better at reading
than flat out reading.
we will just read
and read
and read
a little more.

Probability, graphing, adding fractions,
All using conversation hearts…
Valentine envelopes,
I know,
the great symmetry contest,
how many lines of symmetry can you create
in the design for your valentine bag?

Write a valentine letter
choose three reasons you love that person,
elaborate with details or an anecdote.
Edit with an adult,
write a final draft,
then make a card
with a border around the perimeter
(perimeter- did you get that one more math lesson thrown in?)

My kids hit the door running--
they have brought chips and cookies and cards---
they are so excited
and we have fun,
big fun,
all day long.
But we learn too.
And there are parents
and little brothers and sisters
and snacks, snacks, and more snacks
Our friends from the autism classroom
join our party for a little while
my kids scoot over,
make room at their tables
share cards
and snacks
and kindness.

We are close to the end of our party
When S's mom
and toddler sister come in
Mom apologizes for being late
She has just gotten off work
had to wake up the little sister
I find a juice box and a heart shaped cookie.
Bend over to give it to the toddler.
Try using my Spanish
on this not quite awake three-year-old.

I feel X standing beside me.
Know her mom has been out of town.
Think she needs a hug,
I reach for her
And she leans close.
"Ms. W."
she says seriously,
"I just thought you should know…"
I am expecting to hear about
our wonderful day
All she has learned.
How much fun we have had.
But X has another message,
"I just thought you should know,
when you bend over,
the top of your underwear shows.
And it's pink."
Yep, sweetie, it sure is.
My underwear
is definitely pink.
Hot pink
if you want to be exact.
Happy Valentine's Day
from the teacher
with the hot pink underwear.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

PLANT A KISS- Amy Krouse Rosenthal

I'm a huge Amy Krouse Rosenthal fan- one of the first books I read out loud this year was THE WONDER BOOK, and now, almost six months later, it's a rare Poetry Friday when someone doesn't share a poem from THE WONDER BOOK. I also love, love, love THE DOT and ISH by Peter H. Reynolds. I was delighted, then, when I received an email asking if I wanted to review PLANT A KISS.

The book, as I expected, is really fun, a simple rhyming text, with Reynolds' typical black line illustrations and lots of pink and yellow glitter. Little Miss Plants a Kiss. Waits for it to sprout. Begins to doubt. Then is delighted when the kiss actually does sprout, and she can share the love with friends.

I can see using PLANT A KISS in lots of ways. First, whether your valentine is 6 or 60, I think the book would be an absolutely perfect Valentine's Day gift. Mary Lee suggested using the book in a study of themes and I could definitely see using it there. We are starting to work on idioms this week, and I think this book would be perfect for that too. Or I might use it to show how punctuation shapes a text. Or we might just read and enjoy it!
A winner on lots of levels!

Saturday, February 11, 2012


I'm always on the lookout for books that might interest my football loving, book hating sons. In fact, I think I have probably read every football memoir and/or biography published in the last seven or eight years. If you aren't a sports fan, or a sports parent, you can probably stop reading right now. If you don't like when people link their professional lives, and particularly their professional sports lives with their Christianity, you can stop reading now. If you are looking for books to add to your elementary classroom, you can stop reading now.

ALL IN is the story of Auburn football coach Gene Chizik. For those of you who don't know much about football, Auburn, coached by Chizik, won they national championship in January, 2011. The team's quarterback was Cam Newton, who now plays for the Carolina Panthers and was recently named NFL rookie of the year. ALL IN traces Chizik's journey as a coach, including his very controversial decision to leave a head coaching position at Iowa State after only two years. Throughout the book, Chizik integrates his views on football, faith, and family.

I read ALL IN through lots of different lenses. First, I read it through the lens of a high school football player wanting to be successful at the college level. I think Chizik has lots to say to kids in this group-- mainly that there are lots of talented kids, that players need to work hard, and perhaps most importantly, that football is a TEAM and not an INDIVIDUAl sport. I wish I could get my boys to read this book because I think these are important messages.

I also read this book as a mom. On one hand, I wondered what it would like to be an Iowa State parent, who had entrusted your child to Chizik, only to have him leave a short time later. On the other hand, I would like to have my boys playing for a coach who seems to emphasize team over individual, and character over football. I also appreciated that Chizik talked about his role as a man working with a team of young men, more than half of whom have grown up without fathers. As a single mom, I'm so grateful for the role coaches have played in my boys' lives.

Finally, I read this book as a Christian. As a believer, I'm interested in other people's faith journeys, and this one was no exception. Chizik doesn't sugarcoat his faith. He doesn't say that all of his relationships are perfect. He doesn't believe that God "gave" him a national championship. Rather, he believes that it is his job to actively pursue his relationship with God, and to live that out with his own wife and kids, and in his job. That makes sense to me.

A typical sports biography for the football loving crowd…

Friday, February 10, 2012


I have been living with voices all week long. First, I have been living with Tom Newkirk. Tom was one of my favorite professors during my graduate studies at the University of New Hampshire. He is one of those people who has the rare ability to think deeply and offer brilliant insights on a new topic every year. One year he will be thinking and writing about first grade writers, the next year he's thinking about teaching English effectively at the college level, and then the year after that it's boys and literacy. A couple of months ago, Tom released his newest book, THE ART OF SLOW READING. In the early pages of the book, Tom offers these words:
(Slow reading) has to do with the relationship we have with what we read, with the quality of attention we bring to our reading, with the investment we are willing to make. It is based on the belief that good writing is never consumed, never fully understood, and that though we often read for the efficient extraction of information, this extraction is not the most meaningful or pleasurable reading we do. Slow reading repays even repeated readings and speaks to us in new ways with each engagement..." (p. 2)

There is usually an ebb and flow to slow reading, times when we are immersed in the narrative flow, and times when we pause to reflect or reread or just savor the moment…Although I am convinced that slow reading is essential for real comprehension, it is also clearly crucial to the deep pleasure we take in reading and the power of reading to change us. As John Miedma eloquently puts it: "By opening yourself to a book in this way, you invite ideas and feelings that enrich and expand your interiority. Reading is the making of a deeper self." (3)
Tom devotes a good chunk of the book to six practices that he believes help readers to delve deeply into texts. One of those practices has to do with poetry. Specifically, memorizing poetry. Tom talks about how poetry works its way deeply into our hearts and then surfaces when we need it most.

I read lots and lots of poetry with kids. They memorize some poems because we read them over and over and over again, but I don't usually specifically ask kids to memorize poetry. After reading Newkirk, I'm thinking I might choose a few poems that I love, e.g. Langston Hughes, "Mother to Son" and ask my students to memorize them. I think a poem like "Mother to Son" could become a life song for my students, and when life got hard, they could draw on it for strength and sustenance.

One of the reasons I have been thinking about Newkirk's work is because I have had a poem dancing in my head and my heart all week. It's Eve Merriam's, "A Lazy Thought." I'm posting the poem in its entirety because it's all over the web.

A Lazy Thought

By Eve Merriam

There go the grownups
To the office,
To the store.
Subway rush,
Traffic crush;
Hurry, scurry,
Worry, flurry.

No wonder
Grown ups
Don’t grow up
Any more.
It takes a lot
Of slow
To grow.

The last three lines of this poem, "It takes a lot of slow to grow" have been echoing in my head all week long. We are about four weeks from state testing. This is the time of year when the "Power Standards" hanging next to my desk seem to glow like a neon sign. And the things I have not yet taught (partly because they are in Unit 11 in the math book and we are only finishing unit 7, which, according to the pacing charts is exactly where we are supposed to be) seem to greatly outweigh the things I have. And I feel like that scene in the old CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY movie, when they are all on the boat in the dark, and the boat is moving faster and faster and faster, and everyone is screaming and hanging on for dear life. And I have to fight the temptation to teach faster, faster, faster, and remind myself again and again and again, "It takes a lot of slow to grow…"

I have to remember it takes a lot of slow to grow every time I teach math. You see, the math book devotes about three days to this topic. My kids truly have mastered long division, but it took two and half weeks for some of them. Days of reminding kids that they weren't allowed to say, "I don't get this," but that they could say, "I don't get this YET." Days of practicing with me, with a para, with other students. Days of moving from "Huh"" to "No, hon, put that number in the quotient," to "You are almost there, what's the remainder" to "Yes, I know you love long division, but we can't do it every single day." And now we have got it. And every time one more kid crossed over the bridge, we all clapped and cheered. But on the inside, I was mentally counting the days until testing, thinking about area and perimeter and percents and polygons and acute and obtuse angles. And I have to stop, breathe deeply, and remind myself, "It takes a lot of slow to grow…"

And it's the time of year I have to breathe deeply every time I teach reading. We are working on themes right now, and the genre we are explore is folk tales and fables. Yesterday I chose a fable called "The Crow and the Pitcher." And I thought we were going to talk about themes like perseverance and problem solving. And instead I ended up explaining to the class what a crow was, and drawing a picture of a pitcher on the board. And I wonder how these nine and ten year olds, who would much rather hunt for the pigeon in Mo Willems' on the end pages of Mo Willems' latest book, are ever going to cite evidence for a theme in a work of literature.

And it's also the time when I have to remember to breathe deeply every time a child shows me a piece of writing. "Look, Ms. W., I used dialogue, just like you showed us!"And I look, and sure enough, there is dialogue, but it's that kind of overused dialogue that goes three pages and doesn't say anything.
"How are you?"
"Me too."
"What are you doing?"
On and on and on…
Or in another extreme, the dialogue does say something, but the punctuation is totally wrong. And the child is so, so, so proud of herself for having tried something new, something I have suggested that writers do. And I'm thinking, "Oh my gosh, we only have four weeks and this has to be totally perfect, or else she'll get dinged on the test." And then I need to breathe deeply, and say to myself, "Relax, honor the intentions, celebrate the baby steps, and remember, it takes a lot of slow to grow…"

This time of year is hard for me because it's about perfection and mastery and high standards. And I totally believe in perfection and mastery and high standards. But the problem is, between the starting point and perfection, there is a lot of messiness, a lot of partially formed thinking, a lot of approximation. It really does take a lot of "slow to grow."

And so, this week, I am thankful for the poetry. I am thankful for words I have memorized, the words that have worked their way deep into my heart, and are sitting there, waiting to remind me what I believe about teaching, and maybe about living…

Thursday, February 9, 2012

CCIRA- Franki Sibberson

Last weekend, I promised myself that I really was going to post my notes from CCIRA. I'm doing it for two reasons. First, I know that research shows that only about 5% of what we learn at "sit and get conferences" actually gets implemented in our classrooms. I'm trying to review my notes, then, so that a little more than five percent will stick. I'm also posting them so that friends who didn't get to go, will get to do a little vicarious learning.

On Friday afternoon, I went and saw one of my heroes, Franki Sibberson. I'm trying to remember how I met Franki-- either it was through mutual friends, or it was through the world of blogging. Franki was the wise woman who encouraged me to join Facebook and Twitter two years ago; I still remember her saying, "Carol, Facebook and Twitter are the tools all of the younger teachers use. If we want to communicate with them, we have to at least try to live in their world." I went home that morning and signed up for both tools right away. And while I'm not that excited about Facebook (I HATE having my picture taken, I don't feel like the whole world needs to know my business, and I hate the zillions of posts updating me on everyone's status on games I have no interest in playing), I totally love Twitter-- it actually has become one of my most important sources of professional development. Over the course of the last two years, Franki's posts on 21st century literacy have continually inspired and amazed me. If you have any doubt, check out today's post on using Ignite with fourth graders!

Franki posted her presentations from CCIRA on slideshare, so you can go there and get the read deal, but here are a few of the highlights I'm still thinking about…

Franki started her presentation by reminding us that the conversation about digital reading is not an either print or technology conversation, but rather, it's simply about opening ourselves up to additional possibilities as readers, writers, and thinkers. She compared her pre-technology reading life to her current life, saying, "I still read lots of kids’ books, read some professional books, read an occasional adult book, and read lots of magazines, but now I also read lots of blogs and read on my Kindle. Franki also reminded us that she no longer has only one or two definitive sources for information, reminding us that we are now capable of synthesizing from a much larger pool of information, “Horn Book might say a book is really good, but if five teachers I know say that they didn’t like it, I'm just as likely to listen to them." So true!

Franki encouraged us to ask ourselves, "What kinds of literacies do students need to be able to work, innovate, and communicate in the modern world?" Franki's answer, "Whatever literacies enable them to "write"the media they "read" so they can be active media creators rather than passive media consumers. Literacy has always meant being able to consume and produce the media forms of the day, whatever they may be" made perfect sense to me.

· Franki shared a variety of electronic tools and resources. Most weren't tools that were totally new to me, but over and over again, I found myself thinking, "I have got to get serious about learning to use some of these tools!" Some of the ones I really, really want to add to my every day repertoire include Evernote, Diigo, Glogster, and Tagxedo. I also want to learn to use and figure out how to integrate QR codes into my teaching.

Franki also reminded us that kids are coming to us with a much "larger" sense of story. She shared several ebook websites, e.g. Duck, Duck Moose, Mo Willems' Pigeon, Scaredy Squirrel, and also the work of Patrick Carman, who integrates print books with technology, through books like SKELETON CREEK. I have not read any of Carman's books yet, but have definitely added them to my TBR pile. Franki encouraged teachers to explore tracking their reading through tools like Goodreads or Shelfari. I'm already using Goodreads, but want to make it a more consistent part of my reading life.

Franki finished her presentation with a couple of quotes that I have been thinking about ever since…

If you are in education and you’re not feeling challenged by how these technologies affect teaching and learning, you’re not paying attention—this tectonic shift of connections has huge significance for the way we think about our roles as educators, our classrooms and most important, our own personal learning. It’s becoming more and more obvious that the longer we wait to embrace these shifts, the less prepared our children will be for their future. Will Richardson, Summer 2009

That quote is profoundly disturbing to me as an urban teacher whose students simply don't have access to computers and the internet on a regular basis.

And then, as I'm feeling totally, totally overwhelmed by what I'm NOT doing, Franki brings out a 150 year old quote from Abraham Lincoln, "The best thing about the future is that it only comes one day at a time."

So thankful for this, because I have a ton to learn!



I am teeny bit disturbed by how many books I am buying, even when I am not buying books. I am supposed to be saving for college, remember? But anyway, a new book came in the mail yesterday, and I swear I don't remember ordering it (which might also be another sign of a problem), but I was really glad to get it, and read it, and I can't wait to share it with my fourth graders today.

LISTEN TO MY TRUMPET is the newest Gerald and Piggie. And it's another winner. Piggie has just gotten a new trumpet. And she can't wait to play it for Gerald. Who is all too happy to listen. But Piggie is not very good. In fact, she is downright awful- any elementary teacher who has sat through a beginning band concert can definitely appreciate Gerald's facial expressions! I won't give away the ending, but it's definitely classic Mo!

You gotta read this one (even if you aren't buying books)!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


The first weekend in February.
One of my favorites of the year.
Our state reading conference.

I have been attending
since the year I started teaching.
When I slept on the floor
in my teacher mother's hotel room.

Thirty years later
I have been to at least 25
CCIRA conferences.
And the night before
I am as excited
as a child
waiting for Santa Claus.

I love CCIRA.
That time of getting my bucket refilled.
Richard Arlington
"Only one out of every 24 fifth grade teachers
reads aloud to kids.
Kids need read aloud."
Franki Sibberson.
"We need to rethink our images of reading
to include our digital lives."
Donalyn Miller.
"I have a goal that every one of my students
will read 40 novels.
Last year the child who read the fewest read 18.
But the year before he only read two."
Penny Kittle,
sharing title after title after title,
as I jot madly,
wishing that we lived in New Hampshire
and my sons could have Penny
for their high school
English teacher.
And Sharon Taberski,
"Most of the time when kids don't comprehend
it's not an issue of strategy instruction
it's an issue of background knowledge.
When we take content instruction
out of the picture
we make reading
even harder for kids
from homes with low SES."

I love the speakers.
Love getting my bucket refilled.
My theory confirmed
And stretched
and reshaped.

I love hearing from these speakers.
Remembering what I believe
Remembering why I do
what I do
Tweaking my theory
and rethinking what I will do Monday morning.

I love
the informal hallway
professional development
just as much.
The two minute conversation in the bookstore
with a stranger
"Have you read OPENING MINDS? It's a must have…"
The hugs from CCIRA friends that I see once a year.
"How are your boys?
I saw the article in the paper.
I remember when…"
Glasses of wine
and dinners
and teaching stories
and titles shared.
"If your kids have finished WIMPY KID
"What do YOU do when…"
"This is how I'm keeping track of the data…"

It is four weeks
until my state's blessed event
and I am struggling
to believe in myself
as a teacher.
I am struggling
to believe
in my kids
as readers
and writers
and thinkers.

I am so thankful
to have had
this weekend
of renewal.

Monday, February 6, 2012

UNTIL TUESDAY- Luis Carlos Montalvan

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a sucker for a dog story. And if that dog is a Golden Retriever, well, I am all over it!

UNTIL TUESDAY is a gorgeous memoir about 17-year Army veteran and his service dog, Tuesday. Montalvan was serving in Iraq when he was ambushed and suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury. After his tour of duty, pain from his injuries and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder disabled him to the point where he was unable to leave his house, connect with friends or family members, or have anything remotely resembling a "normal" life.

That was until he met Tuesday, the service dog who was to become his best friend and constant companion. Tuesday takes care of physical needs, such as retrieving shoes, but more importantly, comforts and calms Montalvan, and has enabled him to heal emotionally and resume a more normal life.

I expected a heartwarming man and dog memoir. UNTIL TUESDAY is definitely that (get your tissue box ready!), but it's much, much more. Montalvan (who is highly critical of the US government/Army's handling of the war) helped me to see the Iraqi war through the eyes of a soldier and to better understand PTSD. Montalvan also exposes the discrimination faced by people who use service dogs- I was stunned to learn that there are many restaurants, stories, and even transportation entities, such as city buses, that don't allow the dogs onto their premises.

A must read for dog lovers. This is an adult book, but high school and maybe even middle school readers would enjoy it. There is some violence and vivid imagery in the scenes that take place in Iraq.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

CCIRA- Dick Allington

Every year after CCIRA, or actually every time I go to a conference or hear a speaker, I promise myself that I am going to summarize each session, so that I can think about the content some more, and so that my friends who didn't get to go can have access to the information. I envision some big, gigantic, high quality task that people will really love and use. And then because I am a perfectionist and a procrastinator, it never happens. I decided this year, then, that I am going to simply post the notes, or at least a cleaned up version of the notes, of each session I attended, or maybe just my favorite sessions.

Richard Allington, yes, the Richard Allington who is in the IRA Hall of Fame, and who has long been one of my favorite thinkers and speakers, opened the conference on Thursday morning. Allington talked about the components of an ideal literacy program. He said that in such a program, every day every child will:

  • Read something they have self-selected
  • Read something accurately
  • Read something they understand
  • Write something that is meaningful
  • Talk to peers about their reading and writing
  • Listen to an adult read aloud

He then went on to talk about each of these points in further detail.

Read something they have self-selected.

o Adults typically read texts they choose, not texts that were assigned

o When will kids learn to how to choose books if we always choose for them?

o Access to large and multi-level classroom libraries are critical

o All classrooms K-12 need libraries of 500 to 1000 titles in order to provide easy access to lots of books.

o In far too many schools, there is no budget for building classroom libraries.

o There usually is a budget for workbooks, photocopying and computers, none of which have evidence of improving kids' reading abilities

Read something accurately and smoothly.

o High success reading is essential to developing oral reading fluency

o If kid can’t read the book, we have them in the wrong book

Read something they understand

o If you are reading and you don’t understand, you are not reading, you are just barking at print.

o Barking at print produces no reading growth

o Understanding is different from remembering.

o Recall of textual information is easier than understanding text information

o Do our reading lessons assess recall or understanding????

· Write about something meaningful to them

o Worksheets are not writing

o Writing involves composing (thus the term composition), or creating a text

o Few of us can write well on topics we don’t care about or know very little about

o When we write in the real world, we write about things we know and care about

o Why has so much school writing been about topics we don’t care about or know about?

· Kids need time to talk to peers about their reading and writing

o In the real world, we talk about what we are reading and writing

o In school we turn in our papers and get a grade

o Research shows the power of conversation with peers. Kids that got to talk to their neighbor scored substantially higher Mystrand (2005)

o Even a small amount of literate conversation, ten minutes a day, improves standardized test comprehension outcomes

· Listens to a fluent adult read aloud

Kids should hear 4-5 books a day, 20-25 books a week, 100 books a month)

o Read aloud develops:

§ Vocabulary

§ World knowledge

§ Sense of story

§ Awareness of genres

§ How many teachers are making sure every kid leaves the classroom every day with at least one book they can read?

§ Only 1 out of 24 fifth grade teachers regularly do read alouds

o Where to find the time for these components

§ Eliminate worksheets

§ Replace worksheet time with:

· Literate conversations

· Read aloud

· Self selected reading

· Self selected writing

I came away from Allington's keynote really convicted of two things. First, I need to trust myself that I really do know what I am doing when I devote time to reading and writing and talking and thinking. I need to remember that the decisions I am making for kids really are based in sound, educational practice. And second, I need to shut up and let kids talk more!

Saturday, February 4, 2012


Just back from a terrific three days at our state reading convention. Don't know of any other state where you can hear Dick Allington, Laura Benson, Penny Kittle, Stephen Krashen, Angela Maiers, Donalyn Miller, and Franki Sibberson, in 48 hours, and only 2o minutes from home. Oh, and survive the biggest snowstorm in 100 years, but that is a story for another day. I will blog about CCIRA in the next few days, but in the meantime, read a really fun book at the bookstore today (I actually saw it first on Thursday in Laura's book basket, but we were getting ready to present a a session and there was no time for silliness like reading wonderful picture books) . Please note: I did NOT say, I BOUGHT a fun book at the bookstore!

THE WONDERFUL BOOK is a fun book to add to the "Books about Books" basket. In this book, a rabbit finds a strange red object in the forest. He uses it for a shelter. A bear comes along and uses it for a hat. A family of mice uses it as a table. Finally, a little boy comes along and teaches the animals what the red object- a book- is really for. A perfect companion to my all time favorite picture book, WOLF, by Becky Bloom.