Tuesday, June 27, 2017

A Week of Wild Reading, Part I

The first of a two-part slice on my week of wild reading!

What a week of growth and change! In what were both firsts for me, I signed up for the Scholastic Reading Summit and the American Library Association Annual Conference. Both were in Chicago, just days apart.  I warned my husband, "I've got a nerd week coming in June. I need your support." And support he gave.

Reading Summit day came at 5:00am on Wednesday, June 21. I was awake before my alarm, excited to see what the day would bring. Armed with a bag and a cup of coffee, I was ready to attack Scholastic's Reading Summit with Marcia & Shannon, fellow friends and book nerds. We arrived in time for Breakfast with Mr. Schu, who I have been following on Twitter but had never heard speak in person. What a dynamo! He did his favorite thing: book talked. I did my favorite thing: added to my Goodreads. After hearing Kwame Alexander's absolutely wonderful talk (I never get tired of hearing him speak) we shopped at the book fair, got some coffee, and headed to our first breakout session.
#bookexpedition buddies meet!

Side note: I was unreasonably excited to run into two of my #bookexpedition buddies, Patrick and Katie! We knew we all would be there, but with so many people, we weren't sure we'd be able to meet face-to-face. As luck would have it, they both chose the same first breakout session that I had.

Then, the Summit got even better. Because I signed up early, I didn't know who the presenters for each session were. Imagine my amazement when the person presenting "Empowering Readers" was none other than Jess Lifshitz! I had also known that she'd be there, and we had hoped to meet, but I had no idea that I would be fortunate enough to learn from her. After chatting with her for a few minutes (and getting a book rec: Dan Gemeinhart's The Honest Truth), I settled in to listen and learn. I took PAGES AND PAGES of notes on three areas she chose to discuss: choice, student-created reading goals, and work that matters. Mind blowing takeaways flew at me like confetti.

  • "My goal is to create readers that can exist without me." 
  • "What have you NOTICED as you've been reading?" Jess sets goals with her readers that help them monitor and regulate their thinking about their reading.
  • "What do you do with these goals?" Spoken (teach the class during share while others listen in order to give feedback) or Written (blog posts) reflections help students reflect on and share what they now understand about their reading.  
  • Jess & me, the fangirl
  • "Having biases makes you human. Ignoring them makes it a problem." Teaching that everyone has biases and that is OKAY, as long as you are honestly looking at them is so unbelievably needed into today's divisive world. Jess teaches her students processes they can use to read text differently, which empowers them to view the world differently. 
I will be spending a lot of time on Jess' blog, Crawling Out of the Classroom, as I continue to search for ways to empower my students as readers. On it, she generously shares everything from processes to anchor charts to book lists that help students engage with text in meaningful ways. I am beyond grateful to have had the opportunity to learn from her at the Reading Summit.

After a lovely lunch, we went to our afternoon session, a panel on independent reading that included Donalyn Miller, Katherine Sokolowski, Jess Lifshitz (!), and . Hearing thoughts and practices from these teacher and principal leaders on topics like reading routines and rituals, social media in literacy, literacy resources, book talks, and parent engagement was really helpful. While some of it solidified my thinking, I was more often encouraged to take new steps in my journey as a literacy teacher. I subscribed to Scholastic's Reader Leader blog, learned about family and community engagement, and found new resources to help my students share their love of reading.

The Scholastic Reading Summit wrapped its day of learning with a conversation between John Schumaker and the inimitable Kate DiCamillo (with whom several of my students became obsessed during our end-of-the-year author study.) All I can say is that the pure joy that radiated throughout that room was palpable and something I'll remember forever.

Reading Summit, you surpassed my expectations, and I am incredibly grateful for a day well spent. Next week, I'll reflect on my crazy morning walking the exhibition hall at the American Library Association Annual Conference!


Thank you, Two Writing Teachers, for allowing me to share this slice of my teacher life! For more slices, click here!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Summer Senses

What surrounds teachers during the summer is vastly different than that which we immerse ourselves during the school year, so I thought I'd blog about summer from the perspective of my 5 senses.


The summer sun sparkles off the pool in our backyard.
Our dogs lazily lay on the deck, soaking up the sun.
Shorts, swimsuits, and flip flops litter the laundry room.

Hammers pound and drills buzz as demo day begins our bathroom remodel.
The aspen leaves rustle gently in the morning breeze.
Teenage laughter fills the backyard as steaks sizzle on the grill.

The aroma of freshly-brewed coffee wakes me well after the sun.
Coconut sunscreen fills my hands and my head with summer memories.
The scents of hot dogs and beer mean I'm back again at Wrigley Field.

Turning the pages of the book in my hands.
Feeling the warmth of the sun on my skin.
The cool water envelopes and relaxes me, as time is on my side.

The sweet taste of Sarah's smoothie creations, always new and inventive.
Nectarines, blueberries, and strawberries signal summer's arrival.
Coffee's invigoration slides down my throat (well... not everything is different!)

* * *

Thank you, as always, to the wonderful crew at Two Writing Teachers for allowing me to share a slice of my summer life! If you'd like to read more Slices of Life, click here!

Friday, June 16, 2017

Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova

This graphic novel is a celebration of diversity - both ethnically and academically - something I continue to look for as I search for books that either serve as mirrors in which the kids in my classroom see themselves, or as windows through which they can learn about and empathize with people who are different from them. 

The story centers around protagonist Penelope (Peppi), whose problem - her impulsive choice of pushing a quiet kid named Jaime during a chaotic first day - drives the main part of the plot. Additionally, several subplots (art club vs. science club, friend Maribella's family tension, and the underlying how-to-stop-bullies problem) add dimension to the overall narrative. 

The author's development of the characters was really well done. Penelope is a self-aware problem solver who strives to do the right thing. She knows when she's screwed up, feels guilty, and works hard to try and make it better, even if she's unsure how to go about it. Jaime is so sweet: a science lover who hates competition and wants everyone to get along. Peppi's art club friend Maribella is perhaps the most surprising character: a confident go-getter and seeming leader, a dysfunctional dynamic at home reveals why she is so driven.

I enjoyed this book very much. The panels were beautifully drawn, with the background action pale in contrast to the more boldly-colored up front action. I liked the ending very much, even though it was a little predictable.  The many messages the author revealed through the drawings and the characters actions were ones that my students will totally relate to. I'm sure this book will help kids see themselves in the rich array of characters and help them work through their real-life struggles. 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Gaining More Than I Lost

A poem for last Saturday, a day when I learned so much:

Kindness and love win out

Gaining More Than I Lost

The panic rose like a tidal wave
When I glanced at my husband's ringed finger
Then at mine - ringless
Flashback: three rings in a beach chair's cupholder

The panic turned to action
Springing to the car
Tearing it apart
Finding nothing

The panic grew
But so did my family's kindness
My daughter's hug, my husband's hand on my shoulder
I could feel his ring



The kindness quelled the panic
My sister-in-law, determined
Driving back to the beach
To retrace our steps

The kindness brought me to tears
As strangers brought help
And hope
As my two wedding bands were found

The kindness - more than the grains of sand
We continued to search through
To find my engagement ring
20 years old, part of who I am

Lifeguards made phone calls
Families brought sand toys to sift
Retirees on their hands and knees
A community of kindness, searching together

The kindness and love
Of precious family and perfect strangers
Is what was gratefully gained
When a ring was lost and never found

*  *  *

Thank you to the wonderful crew at Two Writing Teachers, for allowing me to share my Slice of Life. To read more slices from this wonderful community, please click here.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Book Review: The Perfect Score

Wanting to be a contributing member of our #bookexpedition tribe, I've been a bit more energetic in my pursuit of books I can't wait to get my hands on. Therefore, I was THRILLED when Rob Buyea granted my request and sent me an ARC of his soon-to-be-released realistic fiction middle grade novel, The Perfect Score.

The story is told from the points-of-view of five different 6th grade students, similar to Buyea's wonderful Terupt trilogy.  Score's protagonists - under-pressure gymnast Randi, struggling reader Gavin, big-hearted Scott, bully Trevor, and know-it-all Natalie - could be any student in your class. We meet this fab five in Mrs. Woods' 6th grade class. Woods, a firm yet fair teacher with high expectations, doesn't miss a trick with her students. She is an expert at the read aloud, holds the kids to the highest of standards, and goes to bat for her students. Woods is someone I aspire to be. The students split their time between Woods and Mrs. Magenta, whose math and science classes are less about the right answer and more about solving problems, critical analysis, and thinking outside. However, there's a frostiness between the two teachers that adds to the rising tension in the story.

As the school year progresses, the students, teachers, and administration become caught up in preparing for the CSAs, or Comprehensive Student Assessments. In short, it's the PARCC. School becomes less about what's best for the students and more about "acing" the test. The teachers are exhausted, the kids are angry, and the administration is feeling enormous pressure. It's this testing pressure that leads Scott - whose heart is always in the right place, but often doesn't think things through - to come up with a way for everyone to "ace" the test. The kids are thrilled with Scott's plan, each for his own reason, and all 25 students in Mrs. Woods' class decide that they want in. Of course, things don't always go to plan, and the consequences of the kids' actions are unexpected.

Man, oh man, did I love this book. The characters, and the problems that lead them to make the choices they do, are really well-developed. When I first met them, I labeled them just as I did when writing this piece. I judged them. But as the story moved forward, it was clear that there was so much more to each of them than meets the eye, and I really enjoyed the complexity of each character revealing itself. Buyea also does a wonderful job of giving life to each character's unique voice through diction, vocabulary, and sentence structure. Scott speaks in long, rambling sentences that mirror his thought process. Natalie speaks as though she's writing legal briefs, and Gavin's thoughts are sprinkled with football metaphors. You will fall in love with these five. You will cheer for them. You will cry for them. You will feel their overwhelming anxiety.

As a teacher, I was also extremely grateful to Buyea for shedding light on the pressures of standardized testing, not just from the students' perspectives, but also from those of teachers and administration. Woods' confrontation of Principal Allen - accidentally heard over the classroom loudspeaker - was one of my favorites to read. The teachers and administration in this book said and thought what so many of us wish we could. Thanks for giving us that voice.

This book hits stores October 3, 2017. My copy is hitting the road on its way to various members of my #bookexpedition crew. It will travel from Chicago to Maryland to California to New York and many points in between. I can't WAIT to get it back, full of sticky-noted thoughts and reactions of my bookish friends! This is one that I KNOW my 5th graders will absolutely love, and I'm really excited for them to see the journey The Perfect Score took this summer!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

A New Journey

I've seen the hashtags on Twitter: #bookvoyage, #bookjourney, #bookrelay. Groups of teachers and authors who form nationwide book clubs, jotting their thinking on sticky notes in the books, sending them on to the next member, connecting through them. People who love books form a tribe and share their love of reading.

"What could be better?" I thought to myself, wondering how on earth I could start one or become a part of one. This blog post from Phil Bildner, the author of the (totally amazing) Rip & Red series and member of the #bookjourney crew, helped me clarify how their group started, grew, and flourished. But I still couldn't crack the code of how to become "part of a tribe." Insecurity was part of it. Will a group want me? Am I cool enough? Do I have enough to offer?

Then, as though in answer to those questions, I saw that the #bookexpedition group was looking for new members. Swallowing my insecurity, I asked if I could join. I felt like the new kid at school, timidly bringing my lunchbox over to the cool kids' table, wondering if I could eat with them.  The creator of the group, Erin Varley, graciously allowed me to join, along with a couple of other newbies. We are now a tribe of about a dozen teachers and writers, book lovers all.

This new - ahem - expedition I am taking has already changed me as a reader, and as a writer about my reading. I'm reading with a new purpose: to share my thinking with others. I am writing with clarity, with the knowledge that others in my tribe will add their thoughts to mine as our books travel around the country. I am paying more attention to the characters, how they grow and change, and to the symbolism and figurative language authors use to convey their message. I am more connected to the characters. In short, the books are a more emotional experience, because I am sharing them with others.

I just finished my first book for the #bookexpedition crew. Ruth Behar's Lucky Broken Girl will be heading out with a bunch of green sticky notes in it! Next up, Rob Buyea's Perfect Score! I am really looking forward to receiving my first sticky-noted book so I can bask in the thoughts of my fellow book lovers.

I am incredibly grateful to be part of a tribe. Erin, Katie, Mike, Patrick, Amy, Laura, Alexa, Cheryl, Cara, Susan, and Michelle, thank you for helping me grow as we begin this journey together!


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