Everyone Wins With These Book Battles!

February 12th is the American Library Association Youth Media Awards- this is where the Caldecott and Newbery winners are announced each year (as well as several other categories of children’s literature and media).  Across the country during the month of January, many classrooms hold MOCK CALDECOTT or MOCK NEWBERY awards, in which students read and choose their favorite picture books and chapter books. This creates a buzz for books and reading that culminates in viewing the awards live.

If you’d like to generate some buzz with your students here are a few ideas for now or later! You can find many other ideas, activities, and resources with the links I’ve included.


 MOCK CALDECOTT– Read a picture book a day for the month and invite students to quick write after each. Did you like it or not? Why? (Remember the Caldecott looks at the illustrations) At the end of the month, ask them to choose 1 book they would vote for to win the Caldecott. http://100scopenotes.com/2017/11/01/mock-caldecott-2018/

 MOCK NEWBERY– Since these books take longer consider reading book blurbs or showing book trailers of potential contenders and ask grade 3-6 students to quick write their opinion of the book based on the summary using Newbery criteria At the end of the month, ask them to choose 1 book they would vote for to win the Newbery.

March Madness

BATTLE OF THE BOOKS (Picture Books)– Read 2 picture books to your students and ask them to quick write which book they liked more and why.  Continue this activity for several days to give students many opportunities to evaluate and analyze texts. This could be differentiated for K-6 students. You could You could create a bracket for books much like the March Madness for basketball to choose a “Caldecott winner”. You might want to consider state reading award books. In Maine we have the Chickadee Awards! (you could also view picture book trailers)

 BATTLE OF THE BOOKS (Chapter Books) Set up a similar battle as the picture books only students could brainstorm a list of books they read this year or you could use contenders for Newbery Award (see below)or your state awards (in Maine we have MSBA )to set up the brackets.


Invite each student to choose one book they have read that they would love to see win an award. They can create a presentation to share to try to convince others why it should win an award. This doesn’t have to be limited to Caldecott/Newbery, ALA has many award categories that middle grade students could check out. Differentiate presentations depending on time and skill: Posters, Speeches, Presentations, Quick Writes, Essays, Advertisements… just have fun and immerse yourselves in great books.


After looking through contender lists (below) or book trailers (see links above) ask students to choose 1 book that they will most likely add to their TO-BE-READ (TBR) list for this year. Give them an index card to recreate or draw the book jacket and create a poster to put in the hallway to ignite other students’ interest and curiosity. At the end of the year revisit the poster and see who actually read their books.



Or you can just Google Mock Caldecott or Mock Newbery for resources.

It doesn’t really matter the format you choose, the idea is to create a buzz for books that engages your students. These book battles encourage wide reading and higher order thinking such as analyzing and evaluating. They generate excitement and interest in books that students may not have sought out or encountered on their own.

What’s On My Book Radar?


Screen Shot 2018-01-13 at 10.01.13 AMGOOD DOG by Dan Gemeinhart
I didn’t think Dan Gemeinhart could possibly maintain his streak of “greatest hits” but GOOD DOG should have been called GREAT DOG! There are so many twists and turns, and tears in this book that I hated having to put it down to go to work or sleep!
Brodie was a dog. He died. But when he woke up he knew he had to go back somehow and save his boy, Aiden from “the monster” (who happened to be his father). Trouble is, it isn’t easy going back, he’d risk his soul if he failed. The living world is beautiful, but it is also ugly sometimes and Brodie gets a chance to see just how cruel it can be-especially when those you love are in trouble. Make sure you have some uninterrupted time and some tissues when you read this one.
Comes out March 27th. (I’d pre-order!)





Resolve to Thank an Author: #KidLitLove

Tis the season for resolutions and goal setting.  I have noticed on Goodreads that my friends have set goals for the number of books they want to read in 2018. I myself take the Goodreads Reading Challenge each year as one of my New Year’s Resolutions.

But this year I want to do more to honor the creators of all the books I enjoy so dearly. We know they don’t mysteriously show up in our bookstores, libraries, and beside tables-someone took the stories in their heads and crafted them into words that publishers printed into books. Many of of us often post reviews on Goodreads, comments on social media, and occasionally an Amazon review. This helps these authors we love by expanding their potential audience and getting their books into the hands of our young readers.

It takes time and talent to be an author. It also takes courage.  Putting your ideas out into the world is not easy. Rejections, critiques, and judgements are not for the faint of heart. Knowing that my favorite books came to life because their writers persevered, creates some seriously good feels for those audacious authors.

So I encourage everyone who loves reading and loves books to resolve to show a little love for the authors who make it all possible.  (I know many of you already do, so consider yourself the chorus I am singing to) .

Finish a book you love?

  • Tweet about it-post a picture and tag the author
  • Instagram or Facebook it in the same way
  • Add it to Goodreads with a quick review
  • Go to Amazon (even if you don’t shop there) and post a review-this seriously helps generate buzz for books that independent booksellers notice, too.
  • Message your local library or bookseller and encourage them to acquire it.
  • Get it in the hands of every student (if it’s kidlit) or friend that you can.

Sharing your book love is the best way to thank those authors who enrich our lives. Any of these actions would take less than 5 minutes.  I already do many of these things, but not as consistently as I’d like.  I’m going to resolve to do one or two responses each time I read a book I love.

I’m also going to hashtag it #KidLitLove so that I can search back for books during the year. I’d love it if you used the tag, too.

Here’s to a great year of reading in 2018. Thank you to everyone who makes that happen!

What’s On My Book Radar?

Screen Shot 2018-01-06 at 9.33.54 AMPatina by Jason Reynolds

Patina is the 2nd book in Jason Reynold’s TRACK series and it is as fantastic as the first (Ghost). Patina and her sister Maddy are being raised by their uncle Tony and Aunt Emily (Momly) after their father dies and their mother has lost her legs to diabetes. She is enrolled in a fancy charter school where she is the token “raisin in the milk” but finds her place as one of the fastest runners on the Defenders track team. Running is the outlet “Patty” needs to show herself and others that she can be brave and strong. Reynolds has an incredible way of shining a light on the trauma and tragedy of so many lives without invoking pity or shame. This is a must-read series for middle grade/middle school readers who don’t need to wait for others to define what success is.


Finding the Time and Courage to Fly

It’s no secret that I am on a bandwagon to encourage teachers of writing to be teachers who write—regularly.  There’s really no professional development or course you can take to help you become a better writing teacher than to be a writer yourself.

Generally I find there are two reasons teachers are reluctant to write, and I think they are legitimate obstacles-but not impossible barriers.

1. Time- We often find ourselves pulled in dozens of directions with responsibilities. I get that. New Years is often an opportunity to reflect on and prioritize our values to help us create resolutions. There’s a ton of research on the benefits of writing (beyond making you a more effective writing teacher) that might help convince you to find 10 minutes a day to stop and jot. These benefits below don’t apply only to novelists, but to anyone who uses writing to capture and explore thoughts, feelings, and events.  Would 10 minutes of writing each day be worth scoring these perks?

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2. Confidence- Ask most teachers if they are readers and they can spout off stacks of titles they have read in the past year. Ask them if they are writers and the most common response is some variation of “not a very good one”.  TRUE, it is easier to consume (read) than produce (write) for almost everyone, but it is also true that the only way to get better at something is by doing it- A LOT.

I hope those who lack confidence in their ability to write have greater empathy for their students who are reluctant writers.  We all share the same fears. We wonder, “What if it’s not good enough?” But ask yourself, “Good enough for whom?” You don’t have to write for any audience other than yourself if you choose.  I encourage you to consider that it is our vulnerability that inspires our empathy and compassion.  Being a writer (especially an insecure one) can make you kinder through this awareness.

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Even amazing writers like E.B. White doubted their abilities. We are in great company with our insecurities. Maybe 2018 is the year you muster a little more courage than you thought you possessed. Maybe this will be the year you fly. Start small. If you don’t write…try it.  If you write a little…write a little more. If you only write for yourself… expand your audience.

You can get some support at the fantastic website TEACH WRITE . Started by Jennifer Laffin, a teacher and National Writing Project consultant who knows first-hand how difficult writing can be for teachers and students.  Here you’ll find resources for helping you to develop a daily writing habit, tips for classroom instruction, and a blog to connect teachers of writing. You can follow on Twitter with #TeachWrite for more tips and chats.

I’ve also created a blog for teachers to share pieces of writing with an audience of other teachers called JUST A MOMENT  Please take a moment to read through the posts here. Leave a comment for some of these teachers who had the courage to share. Appreciate the courage it took each in expanding their audience. Lift one another up and honor the daring spirit of those who took a risk. Maybe this will be the year you join them and share a moment through your writing.  I’d love to publish it when you are ready.

Just click the CONTACT tab on the website if you have any questions or are thinking of sharing.

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Here’s to a new year of stories waiting to be lived and shared. May you resolve to capture some of them in writing so that this time next year they’ll be waiting to be reread and remembered.

You have the wings. Don’t be afraid to fly!

What’s On My Book Radar

Screen Shot 2017-12-30 at 9.39.38 AM

Mystery of the Bear Cub

by Tamra Wight illustrated by Carl DiRocco

If you haven’t come across the Cooper and Packrat mystery series, you are in for a huge treat!  Author Tamra Wight was the owner of Poland Springs Campground in Maine and was inspired by life at the campground to create this incredible series. She is also an educator so this spotlight fits perfectly with my “teacher as writer” blog theme! Each book involves a mystery around an indigenous Maine animal. Each chapter begins with fascinating facts about that animal as we follow three friends (Cooper, Packrat, and Roy) who always seem to encounter some mysterious events at the campground.  This series is perfect for middle grade readers and I was so excited for this most recent edition. Kids can try to solve the mystery, but they are also learning about the environment, endangered species, interesting facts about animals, as well as the challenges kids face in their daily lives with family and friends.  It really has it all and is written in such an engaging style. I cannot recommend this series enough. You may want to start at the beginning, but each makes a great stand alone book!

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Teachers Are More Than Scores, Too.

Today, all across the country thousands of teachers are opening their email from National Board and shedding tears. Some of joy. Some of disappointment. Some have been working for years on the four components of accomplished teaching, and some have packed it all into a single year. There is no way to convey the anxiety and anticipation they have been feeling unless you have gone through the process.

Today as I entered my log in information my hands were shaking and my heart was beating in my throat. I tried to steel myself for whatever I would read. I knew how hard I had worked and was proud of my efforts-that wasn’t going to change based on the news today, but I knew the news today was going to change me. I would either be celebrating or game planning-there would be no quitting. The score would no more be a reflection of who I was as a teacher than the standardized test scores of students reflect who they are as learners (and people). Yet they have profound implications in the way others see us.

When I logged in the word CONGRATULATIONS! stopped me cold.  Tears flowed down my cheeks and I began to sob. My shoulders felt instantly lighter and I was euphoric.  After my mini-melt down I immediately began to think of my teaching partners who worked with me on this journey. There were four of us in my district who jumped in together. We helped each other video tape lessons, review our writing, give feedback on our work, and they generously loaned me their classrooms since I didn’t have one of my own. I had gone to monthly meetings sponsored by Maine Education Association for two years and partnered with teachers from across the state. How did they do?

Slowly I started to hear from them. Some shared their sense of joy and relief. Others, their heartbreak.  One missed certifying by ONE POINT.  Part of my commitment to this process was to support others on this journey and so my real celebration will happen when all of my colleagues share the joy I felt today.

If you know a teacher who is working on their National Boards I urge you to offer them encouragement and support. It is an incredibly challenging quest. No one gets there alone-we all need each other.  If they certified today, help them celebrate.  If they didn’t, be a shoulder for them.

To those of you today who opened that email and received your news…I know that you are more than that score. You are courageous and passionate about being a life long learner and you have my respect and admiration.  I hope you are celebrating, and if you are not know that you will be. And when you do, that celebration will be even sweeter.

What’s On My Book Radar?

Screen Shot 2017-12-16 at 9.21.36 AMPASHMINA by Nidhi Chanani

This debut novel by Nidhi Chanani is both modern and miraculous. Priyanka is a teen who lives with her single mother in America and longs to learn about her Indian heritage. However her mother refuses to talk about her past or her homeland. ‘Pri’ discovers a pashmina tucked away in her mother’s suitcase, and when she wraps it around her she is transported to a place she can only assume is India, complete with talking animal guides and a mysterious shadow figure she is determined to identify. Caught in a tug of war between two worlds, two societies, and two identities we get to know Pri and her family. We also learn much about Indian culture and food- which is delightfully delicious! I hope students will love this graphic novel as much as I did. Enchanting!



What #NCTE17 Offered This Teacher

Last weekend I met up with thousands of educators from across the country (and beyond) in St. Louis for the 2017 National Council of Teachers of English Annual Conference with the goal of growing and improving their teaching craft. I met up with dozens of authors who wanted to share their stories and their love for writing and books with the world. Though I paid every penny of my expenses, I realize what a privilege it was for me to be in attendance and I make it my mission to share what I’ve learned and experienced with others. I’ll share a few of those takeaways here in my blog.



For the past several years I have used Sketchnotes to capture the ideas, quotes, and wonderings I find important during the sessions I attend.  You can see these visual notes by clicking on the link above. Here are some of the big ideas I left NCTE17 with…

  • We need to expand the definition of reading and writing.  There is a canon of writing that is too formulaic- and too often we judge texts as “not real reading”. We will invite more readers and writers into the fold if we redefine what reading and writing is.
  • Being a human being in the world is more important than being a reader or writer. If literacy doesn’t help us to explore what it means to be human then it is just an assigned task and not an act of engagement and purpose.
  • Reading and writing is a personal art. Everyone deserves to figure out what process works best for them. Our job is to help them discover this, not just follow our directions.
  • We all have defaults in our reading and writing-that comfort zone we tend to dwell in. When we are aware of them we can more easily break free and expand our repertoire and approaches.
  • Teach with humility. We don’t have all the answers, we cannot be experts in everything. There is so much we can learn from our colleagues and our students if we approach our teaching with an open mind and an open heart.
  • Ask ourselves, “What masks have my students had to wear to exist in the spaces we’ve created?”
  • “The DNA we are walking through this world with is complicated. How do we teach people we consider as ‘others’ when we are the gatekeepers?” –Jacqueline Woodson
  • Before we speak our truth…consider the truth of others. Remember, our identity always comes into the conversation.
  • Consider soft starts to the school day to welcome our students into learning spaces that are inviting, stimulating, and creative.
  • Readers who progress, learn to read by reading.”-Marie Clay  Too often our most struggling readers do the least amount of actual reading. Skill work and interventions replace the reading of continuous texts.  Think about this.
  • Continually ask ourselves: Am I teaching my students or am I covering my material? If we (including students) aren’t clear on expected learning outcomes they’ll just be doing tasks.
  • Books are not diverse if what we mean is they are non-white. That sets up white as the default. What may be a window to one is a mirror to another. Authentic voices are the key to sharing books that promote empathy and understanding.

There were so many more nuggets that I will hold onto (and you can see them in the sketchnotes or photos) but these were what resonated a week out from the conference and so I believe they will stay with me. You can see photos of sessions here:


What’s On My Book Radar?

SMART COOKIE by Elly Swartz

My review is from the ARC of this book that will be released January 30th.

Screen Shot 2017-11-25 at 8.34.00 AM.pngFamily secrets and recipes make this one sweet story! Frankie’s mom died when she was 4 and she decides she wants her dad to meet someone who would make them a family of 3 again. She sets up an online dating profile and compiles a list of Possibles who never seem to fit the bill. Meanwhile her dad is busy running a B&B that is losing business because there are rumors it is haunted. This has Frankie wondering if her mom could be a ghost, so she begins writing her letters for advice. And then we have Gram who seems to have secrets of her own and behavior that is becoming more curious for Frankie. There are so many amazing subplots going on in this book, it kept me captivated. (and the descriptions of the daily cookies at the B&B kept me salivating!) Elly Swartz knows how to write complex characters in compassionate and compelling ways. On the heels of Finding Perfect, I think Swartz has found another perfect story!






TOP 10 Reasons Teachers Should Attend Regional/National Conferences

NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) conference is coming up this week in St. Louis. Many teachers across the country will be going to share in the experience, many more will not. Trying to convince schools that this is a smart investment for them is often difficult. Here are some reasons I recently shared with my school board, I’d love to hear others. If you are one of the lucky ones who can attend these conferences, be a voice of advocacy for your colleagues and a testament to the power of professional development.

Don’t forget turn back around
Help the next one in line
Always stay humble and kind

1.Meet experts and “gurus” face to face

The authors and experts we learn from in professional texts are accessible and open to Screen Shot 2017-11-11 at 8.16.20 AMcollaborative conversations at these events.  There are opportunities for Q&A, meet and greets, book signings, and just running into them in a convention center.  Teachers will be empowered to see that these “experts” are teachers themselves, who have taken their passions to the next level.

  1. Exposure to cutting edge research and state of the art teaching.

Presentations at these conferences are the latest in research, instruction, pedagogy, assessment, and organization. They’ve been vetted by a review panel and needed to pass an array of standards for quality, so we can trust the validity of the information.  Education is constantly changing, and our teachers and schools should have opportunities to learn and adapt.

  1. Networking

Meeting people from other states, regions, or countries can expand our understanding of education like no other experience. We often realize we are more alike than we are different, and yet we each have unique challenges and gifts that make educating America’s youth more than a “one size fits all” reform initiative. We can make lifelong connections to people who will inspire us, support us, and teach us on a personal level.

  1. Break out of your comfort zone

Traveling to a new place can be somewhat stressful, but also exhilarating. Understanding what life is like in unfamiliar surroundings can be eye opening. Learning in a new space activates our brains in new ways and offer up opportunities for fresh/flexible thinking. Connecting with people who may teach differently or have varying opinions can challenge our long held beliefs, routines, or values. They can often reinforce them, or cause shifts.  Either way, that cognitive dissonance is essential for growth as an educator.

  1. Enhance professionalism.

We are treated like professionals at these conferences. Everyone views us as a leader in our field, someone willing to devote days of our busy lives to focus on being the best we can be. Presenters, organizers, and vendors show gratitude and respect for the hard work that goes on each day in our classrooms. There is a shared sense of purpose, empathy, and camaraderie with other professionals in the field that enhances our sense of professionalism for a long time to come.

  1. Intense focus on learning

Much like immersion in a language, teachers are immersed in a focused purpose of improving teaching and learning. We eat, breathe, and live teaching the entire time we are attending a conference. Dinner conversations are often continuations of the day’s learning. We are infused with ideas, energy, passion, and encouragement.

  1. Empowered by like-minded and passionate professionals

We are surrounded by “nerdy” teachers that feel like our TRIBE. There is strength in numbers and we definitely leave a conference feeling stronger because we know we aren’t alone in our passion. We can appreciate that the dedicated teachers we work with each day are just like teachers all across the country and our shared purpose feels empowering.

  1. Expand circle of leadership

When teachers go to a conference and come back to share what they’ve learned and experienced, they are seen as leaders who are willing to give back to their schools.  They aren’t hoarding their new learning, they are expanding it exponentially. It builds expertise in our schools that broadens our resources for supporting one another.

  1. Invest in Our Teachers (and Ourselves)

Teaching is an exhausting profession in which we give and give and give each day. If schools don’t invest back into our teachers, we are draining a precious resource.  Even if a district is paying expenses for attendees there is an incredible personal investment of time and energy. Teachers often have to rearrange their home lives and responsibilities to make accommodations. There are always unreimbursed expenses incurred that have a financial investment required. Teachers do this anyway, because we see it as an investment in our skills, motivation, and passion. If teachers are willing to make the investment, our schools and communities should, too.

  1. Invest in Our Students (Our Kids Are Worth It)

Speaking of investment…aren’t our kids worth the best trained, most motivated, incredibly passionate teachers we can give them? Don’t we want them to have teachers who are dedicated enough to devote days of their lives to make their learning better? Don’t they deserve to have the most cutting edge assessment and instruction to facilitate their learning. It doesn’t just happen by luck, we need to cultivate it and make it a priority.  Remembering why we are here and doing what we do, it makes sense to make sure our students have the best teachers we can give them.


And then when your teachers ARE presenters it can be even more powerful:

  1. Build ExpertiseScreen Shot 2017-11-11 at 8.13.29 AM

If you’ve ever had to share information or expertise with a group of smart individuals, you know you need to bring your A Game-there’s no “phoning it in”.  When schools send teachers to present at conferences they are supporting a teacher to hone their skills to the highest degree. Teachers put in countless hours in observing, writing, reflecting, and revising. This level of self-reflection builds increased expertise that no other professional development can.

  1. Bring Prestige for Our Schools

When presenters share the excellent work that is going on in their schools, they are showcasing the talents and successes that have been hard won. They shine a light on our teachers and students for others to celebrate and learn from. They are passionate ambassadors for their schools-more powerful than a public relations firm! Conference participants often want to connect with the teachers from our district and network to build greater capacity. It draws us into membership of a learning community larger than ourselves.

I’d love to hear even more ideas that support greater teacher participation as well as ways districts help to fund this as well.

What’s On My Book Radar?

Screen Shot 2017-11-11 at 8.00.01 AMPOEMS ARE TEACHERS by Amy Ludwig VanDerWater

I have been so excited for this book’s release and when it arrived I devoured it. Amy Ludwig VanDerWater has been my “go-to” poet/teacher for years. Her website The Poem Farm http://www.poemfarm.amylv.com/ has helped me teach and think about poetry in new ways so I knew this book would be amazing–and it didn’t disappoint. Each lesson offers us 3 poems as mentor texts (1 contemporary poet and 2 student poets) for learning about: craft, ideas, point of view, structure, titles and more. You do not have to read it cover to cover, just dive in and enjoy. Your teaching of poetry will be inspired and your appreciation for poetry will be enhanced. It’s amazing.

We’ve Got the Power

This past week Maine was hit with a powerful storm that left us powerless! It knocked out power to over 1,500,000 homes and businesses.  We were caught off guard by its magnitude.  The drought we’d experienced this summer weakened the roots of many trees that were still heavy with foliage and as a result thousands of trees were toppled, taking utility poles and wires down with them.

Schools across the state were shut down anywhere from a day to a week. We are a rural state, so many were also without water since well pumps rely on electricity.  For many of our students school was the only warm, lit place with food and water. Many of us teachers found our schools a place to clean up, charge electronics, and commiserate with one another.

As difficult as these days were, many of us found an incredible silver lining. In a time Screen Shot 2017-11-04 at 7.56.37 AMwhen discourse and interactions have been so polarized, we saw an incredible coalescing of community. Those with power opened their homes to others for a place to shower or get a warm meal. Schools opened showers to community members and offered charging stations for devices to keep people connected.  Restaurants and stores provided free warm meals to anyone in need. Words of encouragement and support sprouted up on social media. People expressed happiness for others as they celebrated the return of power, even though they may have been in the dark themselves.

In a 5th grade I was working in this week I asked the students to quickwrite a response to the statement The storm was actually a good thing. Nearly every response refuted the statement until we shared and reflected. At that point, many students began to share some wonderful moments they had with their family or friends. “Well, actually it WAS good because we got to go to my memere’s. and Oh, yeah…we got to go out to eat, that was fun! and We got to read with flashlights.” Many also talked about how happy they were when the power came back on, and that felt really good.

Empathy. Appreciation. Community. These were gifts that the storm left in its wake. I hope that in this season of giving thanks that we will continue to hold onto these. We can nudge our children to think beyond the frustration of events, to contemplate the gifts or lessons that every experience offers us. We’ve got that power.

What was lost Is foundNot in the flick of a switch But in the beat of a heartNot in the gleam of a light But in the glow of a deedNot in the absence of heatBut in the warmth of a wordWe

What’s On My Book Radar?

Screen Shot 2017-11-04 at 8.08.21 AMTHE PECULIAR INCIDENT ON SHADY STREET by Lindsay Currie

The perfect way to cap off my Halloween, reading a chilling ghost story. Weaving modern day tween troubles with the macabre mystery of a returning ghost of a long dead child, Lindsay Currie has created a creepy, yet empathetic story kids will love. Tessa Woodward moves with her family from Florida to Chicago when unexplainable things start happening in her new house: drawings appear, her brother’s doll begins crying, and things are disappearing. With the help of three new friends they embark on a quest to solve the mystery of what happened in her house on Shady Street many, many years ago in hopes that some normalcy can return to their lives.

Getting Sketchy at Literacy for All

Last weekend I participated in the Literacy for All Conference in Providence, Rhode Island. Organized by Lesley University in collaboration with the University of Maine and the University of Connecticut, there were more than 100 workshops available to educators.  I was a featured speaker who presented 3 of those workshops, so I was a little more limited on what I could attend, but I wanted to make the most of my time at this fantastic conference.

I was able to see keynotes by Kelly Gallagher and Stephanie Harvey and featured sessions by Penny KittleKate Roberts, and Georgia Heard. I left inspired and energized by their advocacy and passion for literacy.  You can check out my Google Album of photos from these sessions. Don’t pass up a chance to hear them speak if you can!

This is the third year I’ve been using Sketchnotes to capture the big ideas and take aways that I want to return to and reflect on more deeply when I attend conferences.  Before that I would take copious notes, but rarely revisited them-also the act of trying to capture everything verbatim was an exercise in memory control and not in visualizing and conceptualizing what the speakers were saying.

Now, as I hear speakers present ideas, I am visualizing their essence and quickly sketching images or jotting phrases. I think about how ideas connect and build on each other. Instead of a linear set of notes I have a more dynamic collection of take aways. I know that if I want more information I can read their books and visit their websites. I don’t feel the pressure to capture it all.

You can see my collection of sketchnotes from the conference in this Google Album.

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Paula’s Sketchnotes from Literacy for All Oct. 21-23, 2017

Each year I see many more teachers taking visual notes (aka Sketchnotes) at conferences.  I am excited that they are finding this approach to be a helpful way to process the information in a personalized way.  Perhaps I will ask others if I can share some of their sketchnotes in future blog posts. If you use Sketchnotes, drop me a line!


Screen Shot 2017-10-29 at 8.42.51 AM.pngINSIGNIFICANT EVENTS IN THE LIFE OF A CACTUS by Dusti Bowling

Middle school is hard enough, but imagine trying to make your way with no arms, or with debilitating Tourette’s Syndrome. Top that with moving to a new school in the middle of the desert. That’s the situation for Aven, an amazing girl who just happened to be born without arms and her friend , Connor, with uncontrollable tics. Together with their new friend Zion they form a friendship that helps them solve mysteries, take risks, and feel accepted. I just couldn’t put this book down! If you are looking for books that encourage empathy and compassion, that have strong characters who just happen to have disabilities, and want an engaging plot to pull in readers-you NEED this book in your classroom!




#Why I Write

October 20th was the National Day on Writing sponsored by NCTE. As their website says, “Every October 20, NCTE celebrates the importance, joy, and evolution of writing through a tweetup, using the hashtag #WhyIWrite and events hosted by thousands of educators across the country.” The belief is that writing is critical to literacy, but also to our quality of life. Raising awareness and appreciation for the role that writing plays in our lives is the goal of this event. This year NCTE created a new page WHY I WRITE to spread the conversation.

Teachers at my schools posed the question, “Why do you write?” to their students and got wide ranging responses, many predictable, some unexpected.  A second grade student shared, “Writing calms me down.” demonstrating a benefit to writing that cannot be measured by assessments!

I saw countless  responses on Twitter with the hashtag #WhyIWrite that helped me appreciate writing even more than I already do. Some were humorous, many were passionate, all were personal.

This week I will be a featured speaker at the Literacy For All 2017 Conference in Providence, RI. One of my sessions will be Who Says We Don’t Have Time To Write? designed to encourage and support teacher writers. I know those in attendance will most likely be the choir I will “preach” to, but I hope they can bring back some inspiration to their colleagues to inspire them to be writing teachers.

One aspect I will be discussing is how writing can enhance our lives beyond the classroom:

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I mean, who doesn’t want these benefits?

I will also offer a Padlet of resources they can reference and share with colleagues that can offer ideas, tips, and inspiration.

Made with Padlet

I want teachers to reflect on Why I Write beyond October 20th each year and appreciate the important role writing can play in our lives each day. I hope that other teachers will spread the love of writing to students, families, and colleagues as well.

What’s On My Book Radar

Happy Teachers Change the World by Thich Nhat Hanh and Katherine Weare

Screen Shot 2017-10-21 at 8.02.02 AMI have been building a practice of meditation and mindfulness the past few years and trying to bring that practice into my teaching and coaching. So I was thrilled when I saw my hero Thich Nhat Hanh and teachers from his Plum Village in France had authored a book with this very focus. Though I have just started it, I wanted to share this as a resource that could benefit every teacher. As their website says, “The instructions in Happy Teachers Change the World are offered as basic practices taught by Thich Nhat Hanh, followed by guidance from educators using these practices in their classrooms, with ample in-class interpretations, activities, tips, and instructions. Woven throughout are stories from members of the Plum Village community around the world who are applying these teachings in their own lives and educational contexts.” The practices start with ourselves and then extend to our students and classrooms in purposeful and mindful ways. If you are looking to bring more mindfulness into your life, this book could be the gift you deserve!

Hopes vs. Goals

Next Monday in our district, teachers must turn in their goals to their administrator. Our state (Maine) has adopted PEPG (Performance Evaluation and Professional Growth Model) as a tool for evaluating teacher effectiveness. Teachers must write 2 Goals

  • Professional Goal (for personal growth)
  • SLOs -Student Learning Objectives (for student growth)

Our district has chosen NBPT Standards (National Board for Professional Teachers) for professional goals. Teachers must first self-assess their strengths and weaknesses on each of the 5 Core Propositions of the NBPT Standards and then select an area of weakness to design a goal.

Then teachers must determine an area of need for their students based on a variety of data including: reviewing student folders from previous years, current student work, IEPs, pre-assessments, standardized tests, etc. They then set a goal for student learning that addresses the need they’ve determined.

Simple right? Well, it might be if all students had the same strengths and weaknesses. It might be if students were only weak in one subject area.  It might be if they all had a similar weakness in one aspect of that subject area. Our students, however, tend to come to us with a beautiful tapestry of abilities, interests, motivations, and personalities that can make singling out a goal an interesting task.

This is where the math coach I work with and I come in.  We have been helping teachers:

  • Reflect on  student work
  • Analyze student data from pre-assessments or standardized tests
  • Compare student abilities to end of year expectations
  • Prioritize those expectations (what do you want all __graders leaving your class being able to do as a_____(reader, writer, scientist, mathematician, etc)
  • Draft a goal that is achievable but rigorous
  • Create plans of action for instruction that targets the goal and differentiates for students.

That is goal setting and it takes a lot of work.


In the past few years we tended to write more HOPES than GOALS. We might have written “At least 80% of my students will go up 1 level on the Fountas & Pinnell  Benchmark Assessment”. We had no plan of action for making it happen other than our regular teaching so it wasn’t so much of a goal for the students as a hope that they hit the expected benchmark. It wasn’t stretching our teaching or their learning in any purposeful way. It didn’t offer a path for success. And our hope for their success relied on one assessment measure at the end of the school year. If they had a bad day, if they didn’t connect with the test book, if they made some careless errors, our hopes were dashed.


This year I have asked teachers to look at the reading (or writing or math) behaviors expected for those end-of-year benchmark levels and pull out the ones they determine to be non-negotiable. These are behaviors they want students to leave their class with  solid ability. We created a rubric of these 5-10 behaviors and created a class roster in which we could track success with these behaviors and note who already had these as a strength. Their goal might be framed “80% of my students will acquire 4/5 targeted behaviors“. The expectation would be all students acquire all behaviors but we have to be careful with our wording. The way the teacher evaluation system works, if they don’t meet the goals the way you’ve written them-you are ineffective!

Here are some samples from 2nd Grade and Kindergarten:

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Individual Tracking Sheet for Each Student
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Class Roster for “At A Glance” Tracking

With these tools, teachers can more easily differentiate instruction as they create small groups and confer with students.  They can decide when whole group lessons need to be repeated and refined, or when it would be more efficient to form small skill groups.  They can see who needs more scaffolding and who is ready for more challenge. This type of goal setting drives instruction. Students and teachers are more actively pursuing their goals. They aren’t merely hoping they pass the “Level N” book in June.

How does your district set goals? Do you find them meaningful? I’d love to hear more.

What’s On My Book Radar

Clayton Byrd Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia

Screen Shot 2017-10-14 at 8.39.26 AMI need more books in my life that expand my understanding of the human experience-and this short but powerful novel did just that. Clayton is learning to play the Blues with his grandfather, Cool Papa Byrd. He wants nothing more than to please his Papa and be ready to solo-and then his world is turned upside down. Papa Byrd dies and Clayton’s mother sells everything he owned and promised to Clayton-including his guitar. Devastated, Clayton steals back his grandfather’s pork pie hat-the only memento he has left. We begin to see the tangled relationships between Clayton’s mother and her father, between Clayton’s mother and his own father, and Clayton’s relationship with the two of them unfold. All families deal with loss and grief with some universal feelings, but unique reactions. This book helped me see inside the heart of a young boy, his wounded mother, and the role Blues played in their lives