The Homework Message We May Want to Rethink

screen-shot-2016-12-02-at-6-36-54-amThis post is going to be brief.  Anyone who follows me on social media knows my position on homework. I’ve shared research on its efficacy and effects. Today I just want to focus on one aspect, and I believe it is THE most important.

We just had Thanksgiving, and for a month I was immersed in the gratitudes of others and learned what they valued in life. It was uplifting and inspiring. People listed friends, family, trips, nature, fun and games, and health.  I have to believe these are the blessings that they wish for their own children as well.  So for the month of November, those were the messages they were giving their children.

Sadly, for many children, those are not the messages they are given the rest of the year. The message they are presented nearly every day is:

The most important thing in your life is WORK.

That message isn’t delivered in those exact words, so much as it is in actions and reactions.  Think about a child’s life.  They go to ‘work‘ (because school is the child’s work) 7 hours a day, and then they are often given several more hours of work to work on after work. Homework is expected to be a priority after working all day-which was also a priority. For many, if they don’t prioritize homework first and complete it, there are negative consequences…failing grade, loss of recess, detention… shame.

The message many of them are receiving is that your friendships aren’t the priority (play with your friends if and when you get your work done), your health isn’t a priority (deal with that stress, anxiety, illness, or sleep-loss and get your homework done), your experiences aren’t a priority (it doesn’t matter that you went to your sister’s soccer game-you need to get your homework done), nature isn’t a priority (going for a hike with your dad isn’t an excuse), play isn’t a priority (no recess because you didn’t work enough), family isn’t a priority (your parents can be tutors and you, their student-instead of engaging in ‘normal’ family activities).  I know these may sound extreme to some, but I also know that my kids have experienced every single one of these messages. They are often very subtle…but they are pervasive.

I earnestly want us to have conversations around this topic. (I haven’t even addressed the efficacy or other aspects of homework that warrant discussion) I want us to think about what we really want for our children.  Yes, we want them to succeed, but I think we need to define what success in life REALLY is.  What kind of life do we want for our children? What do we want them to value?  What priorities do we truly want them to make for themselves and their own children?

What message do we really want to send to our children about our values and priorities? What role do we want WORK to play in our lives?

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What’s On My Book Radar?



Molly’s mother leaves the family for a year to take a job in Canada. In trying to deal with this loss, she hatches a plan to bring her mother home: win the Lakeville Middle School Slam Poetry Contest. Molly finds herself trying to perfect her chaotic world, but her desire for perfection is turning into habits she can’t control. She’s not sure who she can turn to for help or advice. This is powerful story that can shed a light on a problem (OCD) that afflicts many people and bring some empathy and understanding for others’ struggles.  If you are trying to offer more windows and doors for the students in your classroom, I would encourage you to bring this gem into your libraries. This debut novel from Elly Swartz is nearly perfect!

3 #NCTE16 Takeaways To Impact Teaching and Learning

If you’ve ever been fortunate enough to attend a large national conference, you know that you can often come away feeling exhilarated, but overwhelmed.  So many ideas, so little time to reflect and then implement them all.  I have found 2 approaches to be helpful in supporting my learning and assisting me in coming away with actionable ideas and I believe they could help you, too:

  • Sketchnoting
  • Synthesizing


I’ve been doing this for a few years now, and it has really shaped the way I think about new information coming in.  As presenters share their ideas, my brain is thinking about what does that mean for ME and MY STUDENTS/STAFF?  What are the big ideas I want to be able to remember and take back?  What words resonate with me?  What resources do I want to seek out? What quotes will inspire me to act? If I don’t think it is something I would intentionally use, I don’t jot it down. If it doesn’t inspire me to grow, it doesn’t go in my notebook,  I just listen and absorb it.


These are a few of my #NCTE16 Sketchnotes. You can see them all by CLICKING HERE.


During the conference, I start thinking about how the sessions relate to one another. How could this presentation, support that presentation? What do many of these have in common? What is a theme I could extract from these? That helps me to categorize sessions by topics such as: writing strategies, teaching inspiration, book/author love, power of reading, etc. I often find myself choosing sessions that fit into themes I want to explore more deeply rather than sampling a huge variety of topics.

On the trip home, I continue synthesizing these ideas. Sitting with my sketchnote book, I begin to pull my takeaways-the big ideas I want to hold onto. Here are 3 of the biggest for me.  I’d love to hear what yours are!

#1 Reading/Writing Reciprocity

This isn’t new to most of us, but a renewed emphasis on the correlations is helping me to think about how to scaffold my students more effectively.  When we asked our students about what they have read (comprehension) we can invite them to ask, “What did the writer do to make you think that?” (composition). Everything we do as readers is because of something the writer did. Helping them to understand that purposeful connection as seamless can help them reflect on their own process for composing and comprehending.

We teach inverses in mathematics that help our students develop numeracy. If we think about teaching inverses with literacy we can help them to become more literate. Rather than teaching writing workshop and reading workshop separately, how can we make them more seamless? How can we help those worlds communicate with each other more effectively rather than dividing them up?

  • How can YOU help students use these literacy inverses to help them grow as readers and writers?

#2 Students as Learning Partners

The key to encouraging students to become more self-directed in their own learning is to cultivate engagement rather than compliance.  Too often our classrooms are structured to ensure compliance to our rules, our expectations, our instructions. If we shift our focus toward increasing engagement, we will have students invested in their learning for themselves, and not just to please us.

First, we need to understand and cultivate the 3 Dimensions of Engagement

  1. Behavioral (the quality of students’ participation in the classroom and school community)
  2. Emotional (the quality of students’ sense of belonging and degree to which they care about learning)
  3. Cognitive (the quality of students interest, ownership, and strategies for learning)

I’ll examine these dimensions in a future blog, but we can begin by creating relationships with students that don’t just foster a more positive classroom climate, but that establish a dynamic in which students feel invested and included in the design of the classroom. These relationships are essential for understanding the complex identities of our students in order to partner with them in their learning.  Building strong relationships says, “I see you.   I hear you.   I am here for you.”

We can then develop “partnerships” with students by:

  • Using students’ writing as mentor texts
  • Asking students to teach/lead “expert” groups if they have a desire and strength in a particular area.
  • Inviting students to create the anchor charts in which to teach/learn
  • Asking students to weigh in on planning lessons and assessments
  • Encouraging students to give the book talks/recommendations to classmates
  • Helping students create FLIPPED lessons that can be taught to others

There are dozens more ways, but you get the idea.  We don’t need to be the gatekeepers of learning in our classrooms when we can energize and encourage students to be our allies in this journey.

  • How can YOU partner more with students to create engaged learners in your own classrooms?

#3 Books Save Lives

Paula Bourque Sketchnotes #NCTE16

Literally. I can’t tell you how many stories I have heard from authors and speakers who tell of the influence of a book on their lives-even to the point of saving it. But more often than preventing someone from taking their life, books save lives in ways we may not see or be aware of for years. They can save someone from a life of:


  • isolation
  • prejudice
  • ignorance
  • loneliness
  • fear & bigotry
  • anger and hatred

We need to have books that act as mirrors (in which we can see ourselves) and windows (in which we can see into the lives of others) now more than ever.  The fear of “otherness” has done great harm to people throughout history, and those who fail to learn from history are, as they say, doomed to repeat it. We need our students to see that ALL children have hopes and fears, dreams and aspirations, friends and family just like they do. We need to get those books into the hands our children and into our read alouds and lit groups. Not because they are ‘politically correct’ but because I really do believe that they save lives from being intolerant, fearful, and angry from a lack of understanding. We can prevent those beautiful children in our classroom from growing up with prejudices and biases that close off a wonderful world to them and harm the world for the rest of us.

  • How can YOU find and use books that could save a life?

What’s On My Book Radar?

GHOST by Jason Reynolds

Castle Crenshaw (a.k.a. “Ghost”) can run…fast.  He needed to the night he and his momma escaped from his daddy who tried to kill them.  But now he finds himself running for an elite track team and trying to figure out how or if he belongs.  He finds that he can’t screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-4-16-15-pmrun from his anger and pain, but with the help of his coach and his new team mates, Ghost is learning to trust again and maybe become a great runner. Jason Reynolds writes with such passion and raw voice, you are immediately drawn into this world and walk in the shoes of another.

Winner of the 2017 NCTE Charlotte Huck Award for Outstanding Fiction and a National Book Award Finalist..for GOOD reason-this book captures the truth and trials of many of our youth today who are marginalized and traumatized. A story that NEEDS to be told and it is told so brilliantly by Reynolds. As Jason Reynolds said at the NCTE keynote, “Magic is in the mundane. One of the greatest forms of advocacy is in the mundane.” The everyday stories of people trying to live their lives in the face of adversity may seem mundane, and that is why they are so powerful. Check out GHOST, you will be so glad you did.


A Poem for Peter  by Andrea Davis Pinkney (illus by Lou Fancher & Steve Johnson)

For Picture Book Month, I chose this amazing book. The story of The Snowy Day began over 100 years ago with the birth of Ezra Jack Keats.  This beautiful biography told in verse by Pinkney shows us the incredible story of the man who brought Peter to life and how he never gave up until his dream was realized. I always loved Ezra Jack Keats’ work, and now I have grown to love the man as well.  This book is a MUST for every classroom or home for children who are fans of Peter and his family/friends. Inspiring and illuminating!!

How We Can #DoTheWriteThing


(CAVEAT: If you are a Trump supporter who is celebrating, you might not find much in this post that speaks to you)

It has been a week. A week I hope our country will never, ever see again. Roughly 76% of eligible voters did not vote for the candidate who will be our next president. That makes for a great deal of shock, fear, and frustration in many Americans right now. So what can we do to deal with the emotions and thoughts we are struggling with?  I propose we #DoTheWriteThing!


One of the best ways to process what you are going through is to WRITE about it! WHY?

Writing is naming. It helps us to name the feelings and face them and maybe learn something about ourselves. Is it fear? Is it anger? Is it grief?  Writing helps us clarify those emotions, and provides an outlet to take the anxiety off of your mind/shoulders and transfer them to paper. When we don’t name and acknowledge what we are feeling, it runs as a background noise in our lives that distracts and irritates us. Writing helps us to contemplate and identify the emotion so that we see that elephant in the room.

Writing is meditative.  We slow down, breathe, and sit with our thoughts. Our brains have to choose the words our hearts are feeling, and it can be such a discovery to see how this unfolds. Those thoughts are part of who you are right now-connect with it, be present with it. It allows us to be in the moment without multi-tasking. It is Zen.

Writing is discovery. Once we lay out thoughts and ideas, we can revisit them in a day or two to see how they may have changed or intensified. When we can reflect on our thinking it might lead us to prioritize and problem solve what we DO have control over. It might help us to discover our own biases that keep us from connecting with others and help us to find productive ways to react that help us reach our intended outcomes and purpose.

Writing is documentation. We can chronicle our experience in this unprecedented moment in time. Think about reading the diaries or letters of people from history who are relating moments in real time, we have incredible insights into the human experience. What will our children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren wonder about the America who made this decision? What will they wonder about you? What would you like them to know? Write it down. Create a piece of history.

Writing is healing. Researchers are discovering that writing can be good for our health by relieving stress. But the key finding is in the way people are using writing to interpret their experience, including in the words they choose. Venting alone is not enough, the writer must use it to better understand and learn. Studies have shown writing can boost the immune system  or even speed wound healing.  Writing can lower stress hormones and allow for greater sleep in many people. So if translating events into language can affect the brain,  immune function, and healing we might want to try it.

Writing is revision. We know there is never a single story. The story we were telling ourselves the night of the election probably changed the day after the election.  It is probably changing day by day.  In an article in Psychology Today author Sharon Bray suggests “The greatest health benefits of writing occur when we write a story with structure, causal explanation, repetition of themes, a balanced narrative, and awareness of a listener’s perspective.” James Pennebaker added, “repeatedly confronting an upsetting experience through writing allows for a less emotionally laden assessment of its meaning and impact. Once organized, events become smaller and smaller and therefore easier to deal with. Writing moves us to resolution; it becomes psychologically complete and therefore there’s no need to ruminate about it. beyond the trauma.” So don’t hold onto a single story of grief and frustration.  Allow your story to be revised. Let it reflect your thinking AND let it shape your thinking. Keep writing your story and living your story!

Don’t think you  have time? How much of your day is consumed by anxiety right now? Don’t think you know what to say? Trust your heart-it knows, it will help your head put it into words.  Don’t know what to write? I’ll share some ideas:

  • Keep a journal. Put those thoughts and feelings to paper for all the reasons I mentioned above. Keep it as long as you want or need it.
  • Document with a diary for future generation to share your current thinking and emotions. Add clippings of newspapers, magazines, webpages that will give a context to these musings.
  • Write a letter.
    • Write your congress people to share your concerns and express your hopes. No one man holds the power, remind them of “We the people” House =   Senate=
    • Write to Hillary. Imagine what she must be feeling. If you were “With Her” let her know you still are. Send it to Hillary Clinton: PO Box 5256, New York, NY 10185-5256
    • Write to Donald. Express your concerns and remind him he is the president for ALL people, not just the 24% who voted for him. Donald Trump 725 5th Avenue New York, NY 10022
    • Write to your friend/family member who supported your opponent and try to connect. This election has divided us deeply. Writing can be an olive branch.
    • Write a letter to yourself for a year from now.  Put in writing what you will DO in this next year to make the world a better place. Hold yourself accountable.
  • Write poems.  Sometimes our thoughts are not linear stories, they are a jumble of intense emotions and reactions. Poetry is a place to explore those ideas with less constraint and structure. Think of it as verbal art-abstract expressionism or surrealism!
  • Write on social media. Connect with others with thoughtful, hopeful, uplifting dialogue.  Try to avoid vitriolic posts that only serve to ramp up hate and fill an echo-chamber of despair.  Don’t become what you rallied against. Be a light in a very dark time.
  • Write on community platforms.  In New York City sticky notes were being posted on subway tiles. If there are places in your community, check it out.
  • Write your own book. It’s still NaNoWriMo, but if you don’t have a novel in you, try a short story, a picture book, a series of essays. Give a creative outlet to your experiences, thoughts, and feelings.

I’d love to hear other ways that people can #DoTheWriteThing.  Just use the hashtag on Twitter or reply here.  (And don’t forget STRONGER TOGETHER!)

from author Dan Gemeinhart

What’s On My Book Radar?

screen-shot-2016-11-12-at-9-19-54-amIt’s still Picture Book Month, and I cannot think of a better book to encourage hope and goodness for our future. I WISH YOU MORE by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld is filled with love.   If you are a parent or a teacher, you could use this as a mentor text to write your own book to your children.  What would you wish for them? Read it, then write it!!

I wish you all more hope than fear, more peace than stress, more light than dark in the coming days.


7 Reasons To Use More Picture Books

screen-shot-2016-11-02-at-8-47-01-amIt’s National Picture Book Month!  For some teachers it is a reason to dust off or to check out picture books that they don’t normally use in their classrooms anymore. They take this opportunity to celebrate picture books in an almost nostalgic way.  But it is my hope that for those teachers (and parents) that focusing on picture books this month will remind them how valuable they are in our literacy toolkit.  I’ll share 7 reasons why I think they should be a regular staple in our classrooms-I know there are more and I’d love to hear yours!

#1 Picture Books Teach Visual Literacyscreen-shot-2016-11-02-at-9-34-24-am

We live and work in a visual world. Children need to learn how to navigate the images as well as the words in their environment. Picture books allow them to ‘read’ visual images and infer meaning that cannot be done with words alone. Often the words and images in picture books have contrasting meanings/messages. Children can learn to interpret information through multiple lenses and synthesize their thinking in much more complex ways than with only one mode of information.

#2 Picture Books Expand Vocabulary

Picture books are shorter than chapter books. The author must tell the story with “screen-shot-2016-11-02-at-9-36-23-aman economy of words” and so the word choice is often much more precise and exact in order to create a rich story with fewer words. Picture book authors choose words to encourage visualization – those words in conjunction with the illustrations build vocabulary more deeply than pulling meaning from words alone. With chapter books new vocabulary must be gleaned from context clues from surrounding sentences. This is often difficult and not always a reliable way to build an accurate understanding of unfamiliar words. The visual images from picture books add another layer of support for comprehending what is read and building understandings for new words and concepts.

#3 Picture Books Teach Us About the World

screen-shot-2016-11-02-at-9-41-38-amPicture books often deal with topics that are relevant and age appropriate. They deal with children’s fears, they make sense of our complex world in developmentally appropriate ways, and they teach a wide variety of topics with focus and clarity. Reading chapter books requires a much longer time commitment than reading picture books. In the time a student reads one chapter book, they could have read multiple picture books, exposing them to a greater variety of ideas, concepts, perspectives, genres and information. Children have a greater wealth of knowledge and understanding about their world when they have broader exposure to information about it.

#4 Picture Books Make Great Mentor Texts

screen-shot-2016-11-02-at-9-44-10-amPicture books more closely resemble the type of writing that younger authors (K-6) produce. Children can look to picture books for ideas, frameworks, layouts, and word choices that authors use and imitate the author’s craft much more readily. They can construct stories with solid beginnings, middles and ends because they can immerse themselves in many examples from their favorite authors, often in a single sitting. Children can relate to the topics because picture book authors target their ideas for this age group’s interests, experiences and understanding.

#5 Picture Books Encourage Complex Thinking

screen-shot-2016-11-02-at-9-45-24-amPicture books actually require a great deal of higher order thinking skills from young readers. Because they are often shorter, they require a great deal of: inferring (reading between the lines), synthesizing prior knowledge (making connections to their own lives), and predicting (using what they know to predict what will happen). They often have unexpected endings which challenge the reader’s thinking. They require a synthesis of visual and written information to comprehend the story completely. Because students can read more picture books in the same time frame as a chapter books, students are exposed to many more opportunities to use a variety of strategies.

#6 Picture Books Are an Art Form

Screen Shot 2016-11-02 at 9.47.55 AM.pngLook at the wide variety of media and approaches illustrators use in their picture books and you can begin to appreciate the enormous resource that picture books can provide for teaching about art.  Students can “unpack” the style, the intentional choices, the interpretation, the visual elements, and the choice of media used to create the images.  For some students this may be the only constant exposure to art that they have in their lives.  We can do a lot with picture books to help them appreciate the importance of art and the contribution it makes in our lives.

#7 Picture Books Are Pleasurable!

screen-shot-2016-11-02-at-9-49-08-amLet’s face it…the #1 motivator for engaging in an activity is often pleasure.  Picture books can be a lot of fun for readers because they are very often humorous, but they can also be fun because they offer readers success.  It is FUN to feel like an accomplished reader-it brings pride and joy to so many students.  It is also very satisfying to read an entire story in one sitting-there is a completeness that is gratifying. Because their message is so “compact” we can experience a range of emotions in a short time and often end up with feelings of joy, relief, or determination.  We can experience the gamut of our humanness in a small package, and sharing that experience with others is part of what makes us human.

So as we celebrate National Picture Book Month, I encourage you to think purposefully about how you might incorporate more picture books into your K-12 classrooms. (Yes, high school is a great place for picture books, too!) I’d love to hear how/why you use picture books in your classrooms.  Post to twitter using #PictureBooksBecause and share your thinking!

What’s On My Book Radar?

This month I’ll focus my radar on picture books!  I can’t think of a better pair of books to start with than these two by Ryan T. Higgins! Ryan is not only talented, he happens to be one of the nicest author/illustrators you could ever meet. His Bruce stories are fantastic!

Bruce is a bear that liked to keep to himself.  Some might even call him grumpy. But when he finds himself the unlikely mother of a gaggle of goslings, his world is turned upside down.  I have read this book from kindergarten to fifth grade with so much success.  Kids can predict, infer, make connections, discuss theme and simply enjoy a well told and beautifully illustrated story (with both of these).  If you haven’t checked out the Bruce books I encouraged you to get to your favorite bookseller ASAP!

So What if You Can’t Draw! You Can Doodle!


In the last two years I have been trying something different when I attend conferences and sit through PD sessions. I used to take copious notes, first by hand and then on my computer. I got really good at dividing my attention with keyboarding and listening (I thought). I had pages of notes/scripts/ outlines.

And I never revisited them.

I asked myself, “What was the point?” Were they helping me to focus AS I was listening and participating-well, the research supports the use of handwritten note taking much more than the keyboarding. Researchers, Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer note in their piece The Pen Is Mightier Than The Keyboard , “…there are two hypotheses to why note-taking is beneficial in the first place. The first idea is called the encoding hypothesis, which says that when a person is taking notes, “the processing that occurs” will improve “learning and retention.” The second, called the external-storage hypothesis, is that you learn by being able to look back at your notes, or even the notes of other people…”

Well, the ‘external-storage hypothesis’ certainly wasn’t applying to me.  I might have been doing some minimal processing to ‘encode’ when I wrote my notes by hand, but more than likely I was simply transcribing and not not conceptualizing the information. So I started looking into other ways to help me not only PROCESS the information better at the time, but also that would invite me to revisit the information again in the future.

I have found TWO methods that have been so much more useful to me. One involves some technology, the other-a good old fashioned approach.

“Take a Picture, It’ll Last Longer!”

Sometimes I just want to soak in the lecture or information being shared in a presentationimg_5482 by the gurus and peeps that I admire, and I don’t want to divide my attention between writing and listening. So I pull out my iPhone and just start clicking.  I choose slides that are meaningful and take a picture so that I can reflect on it later. Occasionally I make short video clips that I can review and reflect on. I am very mindful that this is the intellectual property of the presenter so I keep it for personal use only.  Generally, I create a google photo album and add some notes later if I want to add that information. I can then scroll through and remember much of the presentation.

Just doodle your best!

The second approach I have been using for a few years now is sketchnoting. It goes by other names: doodling, visual note taking, or even scribbling. We used to geimg_3125t in trouble for it in school and now it is “A THANG!” I was apprehensive to try it at first, using many of the same responses I hear now:” I can’t draw!  I wish I could do that!   I’m not that creative!” But I knew I needed to try something different if I ever wanted to maximize the learning and concepts from the notes I took.

At first I just used boxes and bubbles to cluster ideas or highlight thoughts. Then I started trying to visualize the information and think about how I could capture just the important “stuff”.  I think in terms of metaphors and analogies a lot, so I wondered how I could incorporate those into my sketchnotes.

I read Sunni Brown’s book The Doodle Revolution and saw her TED Talk.   I dove into Mike Rhode’s book The Sketchnote Handbook and Wendy Pillars’ Visual Notetaking for Educators.

Then I discovered a motherlode of resources online. Just google Sketchnotes or Doodling or Visual Notetaking and you’ll be amazed at the plethora of sites and sources. It could be easy to be overwhelmed.  My advice?  Google “sketchnotes by students”to look at doodles that exemplify the basic concept of visual notetaking: turn big ideas into a visual representation that helps you activate schema, make connections, draw conclusions.Or start with this EdCollab session by  Tanny McGregor and Shawna Coppola. (teachers who walk the talk!)

img_5512You are not creating an artists’ notebook. You never have to share your sketchnotes with anyone! But I encourage you to just try it! Do it in the privacy of your home as you listen to a TED Talk or watch a YouTube video on a topic you want to learn about.  Nobody will be watching. Nobody will care! See if you notice a difference in your mindfulness, your focus, your thinking.

Then think about how this type of notetaking might help your students. How can they visualize key concepts and ideas?  How can they translate mounds of information into a cohesive, meaningful, and retrievable message? Think about how powerful it would be to get a glimpse into their thinking, rather than observing their ‘secretarial skills’ as they take notes. Imagine the level of engagement for this type of activity. I’m not saying it’s a magic bullet, but it opens up a whole new world of possible!

You can check out my PADLET of Sketchnote Resources here.

C’mon…join the Doodle Revolution!

What’s On My Book Radar?

screen-shot-2016-10-28-at-3-35-14-pmThis week I’ve been doing a lot of professional reading. I’ve been a big fan of Angela Watson’s The Cornerstone for Teachers website and I absolutely love her book Awakened: Change Your Mindset to Transform Your Teaching.  We have heard a lot about mindset thanks to the work of Carol Dweck, but Watson hits on some key concepts for helping teachers deal with so many issues that cause burn-out.  Though she takes on a more religious/spiritual aspect than most professional books do, it is also grounded in common sense and purposefulness.  If you are feeling frustrated, burned out, or want to head off those feelings, you might want to check out this book. While you are at it, I encourage you to visit her website as well.

Not Convinced Diversity Is That Important?

I was walking on the grounds of one of our elementary schools this week, came across this line of trees and was in utter awe.img_2673

It struck me like a ton of bricks…diversity is beautiful.  We are intrinsically drawn to variation.  We may think  that sameness is great, until we are presented with the possibilities of diversity and can appreciate the depth of our desire for diversity.

Not convinced? Look at how we crave diversity in our lives.

Any one of these flavors would be delicious to us, but not if we were constantly limited to the same thing. If all we had to eat in our diet were Reese’s cups we might actually (gulp) develop an aversion to them!

Would you have been happy as a kid using the same crayon or paint color-even if it was your favorite? I mean, how many of us begged our parents for the most giganticus box of Crayolas? We tried hard to convince them that diversity was important to us.

If you have ever tried to arrange a bouquet or plan a garden, you can truly appreciate how diversity adds beauty and harmony to the design element.  They bloom at different times, they give shape and texture to the ensemble, they complement each other in ways that bring out the best in each flower.


We desire a diversity in the selection of tools we accumulate. We realize there is no one superior tool, they all bring a unique utility and application to meet our diverse needs.Sure we love hammers, but if that’s the only tool we have, everything is going to start looking like a nail to us.


I live in Maine.  The diversity of seasons offers us a variety of experiences and opportunities that people who live in the Arctic or the Bahamas may never enjoy. Sure, I have my favorites, but I also find deep pleasure in the experience of each.

Scientists and philosophers address the importance of diversity.


Nature thrives with diversity.


Our children embrace diversity…

1930574_10209305946025372_3573791951316148095_n.jpguntil they learn otherwise.

We can’t truly teach acceptance and diversity if we don’t honestly believe that it is important for our quality of life, our sense of community, and even for our survival. From a cellular level on up- we depend upon diversity to thrive and survive. It isn’t until we learn from others to disregard or disavow the importance of diversity that it becomes a political or moral issue.  I hope as teachers we can counter the messages (subtle and overt) that paint diversity into a “politically correct” corner. (And lately those messages are ramped up bigly).  Look into the faces of the children in your classroom and picture the world you want them to grow up in.

Be the change!

What’s On My Book Radar?

screen-shot-2016-10-22-at-8-45-58-amAs Brave as You by Jason Reynolds

I love this story on so many levels, but in terms of diversity, it is a perfect book.  Kids often get the message that diversity is a condition to overcome!  When disability, race, gender, or sexual identity is the central “problem” to the story, rather than just “who we are”, it reinforces the otherness that separates us rather than the common experiences that unite us. The windows and mirrors should be a connector, not a barrier. This story does that.

Genie and his brother, Ernie, are sent to their grandparent’s home while their parents take a trip to Jamaica in an attempt to salvage their troubled marriage. Grandpop is blind, but full of surprises that the boys discover as they get to know a man who estranged from his own son (their father). Jason Reynolds knows how to create complex characters that will stay with you, long after the pages close on their story.

When You Can’t Contain Your Booklove

14614517_10211135952343003_408002585_oYou love books. You talk books. You share books. So what do  you do when you can’t contain your booklove?  You hold a book bonanza!

This week we hosted an evening to celebrate our love of books with the Maine Literacy Council’s Fall Book Bonanza.  We wanted to share some of our favorite new books with teachers and librarians from schools and communities that support K-12 readers. The energy was palpable!  Getting together in a room packed with passionate book lovers is a great way to launch a school year, or to re-energize a midyear slump, or even prep for summer reading.  The idea is to create buzz for books that ‘infects’ everyone around you-colleagues, students, parents, etc!

Create your own Book Bonanza…

Invite book talkers. Find some colleagues who would love to share their passion for books and who would be willing to share a brief booktalk.

Research. Find out what is new and loved in the kidlitosphere.  Join chats like #Titletalk #MELit #ShelfieTalk #kidlitchat #bookaday #WeNeedDiverseBooks We also looked for what is new in professional books for teachers.  There are so many offerings, it is nice to hear from others what is helpful and who might find it valuable.

Read. (ok, this is probably the easiest step for most of us!! haaa)

Create a platform for sharing. We created a Google Slide so that book talkers could add their books and blurbs. We hyperlinked all books to Amazon (not because we want readers to buy from them necessarily, but so they can review the books they love more easily!)  We also created a Padlet. Our Maine Student Book Award committee created a Symbaloo to share their titles.

Find a venue. Think about who you want to invite and find a suitable space. Maybe it is your local library, your classroom, or a conference room.

Bring food. Breaking bread with others is a wonderful way to build community, create a festive atmosphere, and attract participants. You could make it potluck, look for donations, or make it yourself.

Have swag.  It’s fun to win or get “stuff”.  It adds an element of fun to an event, and makes participants feel appreciated, important and special.  I save ARCs from conferences I attend, I’ve saved gently used books, and I purchase inexpensive office supplies. I also reach out for donations, and you’d be pleasantly surprised at how willing others are to support teachers!

Play games. We raffled off some free items and our MSBA representative played a game of Kahoot with participants.  If you haven’t checked out Kahoot, you need to! You can create an interactive trivia or question/answer game in minutes!

Book talk.  Bring books, read books, share books with brief book talks that make your audience want to run out and get that title!! (no spoilers, please!) Then allow participants to share some of their favorites as well.  It shouldn’t be all “sit and get”.

That’s It.  Those are the basics for hosting your own Booklove Event.  Start small. Go big. Whatever is best for you. Sure it’s work and we’re all busy, but I can guarantee you that it will spark your own passion and spread an excitement for books that will ‘feed forward’ for a long time to come!

What’s On My Book Radar?


Fans of Raina Telgemeier‘s previous graphic novels are anxious to get their hands on her new book GHOSTS.

Catrina (Cat) and her family are moving to the coast of Northern California because her little sister, Maya,has cystic fibrosis and will benefit from the cool sea air. Cat isn’t happy about leaving her friends. As the girls explore their new home, a neighbor lets them in on a secret: There are ghosts in Bahía de la Luna!. With Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) coming, Cat thinks (worries?)she’ll get a chance to see them.

Long wait list at our library for this one!


Should We Replace Reading Logs?

Before you can answer that question, you have to ask yourself another question…what is the purpose for reading logs?  I asked this of the teachers in my district and got responses like these:

  • “To hold kids accountable for their reading.”
  • “For students to track their reading throughout the week.”
  • “To encourage children to read at home.”
  • “A way for families to track their at home reading progress. A way for the teacher to see this progress.”

But then I also got comments like:

  • “I don’t use them anymore, as I don’t that they accurately reflect student reading!”
  • ” I turned out to be more work for me and little return for the students in terms of reading achievement so I am not doing them this year.”

So I think questions we need to ask ourselves might include:

  • Are you finding as a teacher YOU are doing more work with reading logs than your students?
  • Are your students doing more tracking, responding, and ‘accountability’/documenting than they are actually reading?
  • “What is my purpose? Do logs meet that purpose?”

Let’s consider why we might want to track reading.  To do this, I reflect on why real life readers might want to do this.  I certainly don’t track the number of pages read for each book, but I like to keep a history of what I have read.  I like to look at my choices and reflect on them from time to time.  I like to get recommendations based on what I have previously enjoyed. I like to be able to share titles with others and see who has similar interests.

Let’s think about how real life readers do this. Well, I keep a running list of books I’ve read in the back of my journal, I am an avid Goodreads member, I post albums of books to Facebook, I tweet out titles during chats, I share photos on Instagram, I give book talks to teachers and students.  This tracking is a social connection as well as personal recollection.

If your purpose is that students will read more, read widely, share their reading lives, and enjoy reading enough to make it a habit, then let your choices for tracking their reading meet that purpose!  Here are a few ideas you could test out.


screen-shot-2016-10-01-at-8-35-07-amGOOGLE SLIDES   Kids can keep an ongoing ‘slide show’ of books that they have read during the year. Each slide could contain an image of the book jacket, a review or summary, a rating (1-5 stars) a link to a book trailer or author information. They can be as creative as they’d like.  The presentation could be shared with parents at conferences, to the class for inspiration, or printed out as documentation of reading.


screen-shot-2016-10-01-at-8-31-49-amBIBLIONASIUM   The Goodreads for kids! They get their very own virtual bookshelf, where they can keep track of what they’ve read, and what they want to read and can sort them by date, title, or author. The site suggests recommendations based on selections, creates challenges,  They can share book recommendations with friends and  can get your friends to suggest books you’ll like.  It’s FREE, and it is a safe.



PADLET  A virtual bulletin board/wall of the books you have read can be created with Padlet.  Students can track their books with links and see what others are reading. You could create a padlet for your read aloud where students could post comments or responses to questions. There are many great uses for Padlet in the classroom you can see if you click HERE or HERE.



SYMBALOO is a free cloud-based bookmarking service. Students could create a page of books they have read, and link them to the author’s webpage, a book trailer or a review so that if others click on the image they can get instant information about the book. You can check out other uses for Symbaloo in the classroom HERE.

Here are a few “non-techie” options to help document a reader’s history for the year.


ILLUSTRATED BOOK SHELVES  –  kids draw book spines that look like the original to help others “spot” these books.  Create different pages for “MUST READS”/”SO-SO”/”NO-GO” Or by genre, month, whatever! Be as creative as you’d like. Let kids determine the format, style, and function.


screen-shot-2016-10-01-at-8-51-26-am READER’S NOTEBOOKS If your goal is that students will think deeply or differently about what they read, provide them the space and time to respond to what they have read in meaningful ways. Let them design a Reader’s Notebook that reflects their unique reading identity.  Collect samples and discuss purpose, and then let students make them their own. Sure we could assign questions or formats, but these self-designed notebooks can give us a lot of information about how kids see themselves as readers, how they reflect or don’t,

screen-shot-2016-10-01-at-10-32-46-am‘PHOTO’ ALBUMS – Students use an index card or 4×6 sized paper to recreate the book jacket or create a mini-poster for their book on one side. Flip it over and rate it, review it, summarize it…on the other. They can even write the date they read/finished it. Slip the cards into a $1 4×6 photo album to keep a collection of book memories.


screen-shot-2016-10-01-at-10-46-34-amBOOK BUDDIES -If you want to build a reading community that talks about books and their reading lives, build time in your day for kids to do that.  One idea is that each morning kids meet with a ‘Book Buddy’ (could be same buddy each day for a week or so or rotates) for 5 or 10 minutes to discuss what they read outside of school or the previous day in school. Readers could mark places in the book or jot ideas they’d like to share. Some suggested sentence stems:

  • A summary of my reading last night starts with____ (summarizing)
  • Something I think the author did really well was____(attention to craft)
  • Something I learned/thought/recognized about my character was____(character analysis)
  • I think the setting is integral to the story/plot because______ (setting analysis)
  • This book is starting to remind me of____(connection to text, experience, real world)
  • Something we’ve been working on as readers that I tried/noticed _______(transfer)

If we want kids to be life-long readers, perhaps we can share approaches that mirror what true life-long readers do.  We sometimes document what we’ve read, or share via social media, or talk with others about our reading lives/interests/choices. I’d love to hear some other alternatives to a more traditional reading log that have excited your students and created a greater community of readers!

What’s On My Book Radar?


Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson

Jacqueline Woodson has done it again…created a book that will reside in my heart for years to come. We meet August, a young girl who has moved from Tennessee to Brooklyn with her father and brother and becomes ‘sisters’ with three neighborhood girls. As the story unfolds we grow up with August, her brother, and friends and unravel the mystery of her missing mother. If you have ever heard Jackie read her work you will hear this story (which reads more like a poem) with her lyrical voice and passioned prosody in your head. Considered her first adult novel, I think it fits with YA as well. (Some of the topics are more appropriate for older readers.)

PD in my PJs!

9b407nfkqba6camy1c4khljlmzuzfonushhoojmbgttwsh2d2tkjult3d90nw-_e-_lk88imu9yw1630-h1222-noSo today was the Fall 2016 Educators Collaborative Gathering or #TheEdCollabGathering. I can’t believe I haven’t participated in this before! Chris Lehman and his incredible ‘Ed Collaborators’ put together a day of premium professional development delivered right into my home…and it was FREE!

The day kicked off with a passionate  talk from Chris to all of us. He starts, “Educators are people. We are humans. We are humans with concerns, and love, and identities, and families, and so much that make us human. And too often as educators we can walk into our school building or classroom and feel either by choice or by pressure of society or the culture in our school that we need to let go of those of those parts of ourselves, that we may need to let go of parts of our identity, or the things that make us laugh, or the people that we love, the families that we are in. There are times we have to, or feel like we have to let go. And what I want to suggest to you today…is that one piece of your humanity that you can’t let go of, we can’t stop being, is political. Because if you are not political, everything that is happening around us will become predictable.” In essence, Chris invited us to reimagine what being political means.  You need to hear it in his own words here:

Chris then introduced the amazing Katherine Bomer who screen-shot-2016-09-24-at-6-15-08-pminspired us with the a whole group session entitled “Writing is a Journey of Thinking, and the Journey is Everything.  She helped us rethink our concept of the essay and how essay is really literature- not simply 5 paragraphs! Her keynote follows Chris’ keynote in the video above.


After that we were free to choose from an screen-shot-2016-09-24-at-6-26-52-pmamazing lineup of workshops in each of the the next four sessions. How are you supposed to decide which session to choose when they are all phenomenal?? The good news is, every session is archived! So if you missed today’s #EdCollabGathering or you participated, but wanted to check out too many sessions at the same time, you can go back and watch every single session–as much as you want!!

Click HERE to head over to the AGENDA AT A GLANCE page that will link you to each and every session.

Now, I said this was free, but Chris did ask that we pay it forward by making a donation to a charity (since you didn’t have to spend anything on this great PD).

screen-shot-2016-09-24-at-6-33-59-pmKatherine Bomer, chose the charity CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) and encouraged participants to consider this as one of the charities we might support in honor of this incredible day of learning. Click on the image or HERE to make a donation. These advocates are there for kids who are caught up in the court system and need someone who knows and cares about them to navigate the legal situation they never asked to be in!

Here are the sessions I participated in:


And if today’s sessions aren’t enough free PD in your PJs, mark your calendars for April 8th! That will be the day for the Spring 2017 #EdCollabGathering!  I can hardly wait! And in the meantime  here’s the link to all the past #EdCollabGatherings on YOUTUBE.

I STORIFIED my tweets here!

I stored my photos here!


What’s On My Book Radar?

screen-shot-2016-09-24-at-8-40-09-pmAuthor Melanie Conklin knows just how to pull your heartstrings until you think they’ll snap, and then gently nurtures them back to a new normal with loving kindness. In her debut book we meet 11 year old Thyme, who’s brother Val has a rare and dangerous cancer.  He has just been accepted into a new drug trial-which is great news. But the family must leave their home and friends and move thousands of miles away  to New York City -which is bad news for Thyme and her sister Cori. All Thyme can do is count the days, and hope for a miracle for her little brother and a way for her to get back home to the life she loved. In the meantime she discovers new friends, a new boy, and a crumudgeon of a neighbor who all plant seeds in the garden of this new life and she must grapple with the guilt and confusion over these conflicting worlds. If this is a first book, I am SO excited to see what other characters Melanie will bring to life for us in her next, and next, and next!

It’s Bigger Than a Dot!

screen-shot-2016-09-16-at-9-26-49-pmThis week, Sept 15 was International Dot Day. All across the world, classrooms were celebrating the creativity that springs from the initiation of effort-even the tiniest attempts.  “Make your mark!“became the mantra with students.  I believe that when we accept and encourage our children wherever they are and honor their efforts, great things can happen. Peter Reynold‘s brilliant book , The Dot , illustrates this so beautifully.  In this story, we are introduced to Vashti, a student who lacks confidence in her ability to draw. Her teacher encourages her to “just make a mark” and what happens after that changes how Vashti sees herself and her abilities. Talk about growth mindset! (check out the story below)


Worldwide, students heard that powerful message and experienced the potential of The Dot as the start of something wonderful.  These literacy events can be transformative for children everywhere, and the sense of community that comes from knowing we are part of something bigger than our classroom is empowering. When I tell kids that children on the other side of the world are reading this book today, or celebrating dots today, you can see the look of awe spread across their faces. Grab a globe and show them. Tell them about a child in Africa, or China, or France and watch them begin to think globally. We are all the same-we are all connected.

Sure, you might have missed Dot Day, but there is a year filled with events that celebrate literacy and our global community. Participation in these events means so much more than arts and crafts or reading a singular story.  Being a part of something bigger than ourselves helps us feel connected and important.  We can relate to others with a common story, idea, and message that becomes universal. We can identify ourselves as members of a larger, more inclusive community. We matter in the world.

So don’t worry if you missed Dot Day. There are many, many celebrations that you can plan for. You don’t have to do them all, but I encourage you to participate in something this year that lets your children become part of something bigger than their classroom. Maybe it is a school-wide or district event. Maybe it is something in your city or state. Perhaps it is a national or global initiative. You’ll be supporting their understanding of literacy while promoting the importance of humanity.

Some Literacy Initiatives You May Want to Check Out


International Day of Peace -Sept 21

Banned Books Week 2016: Sept. 25 – Oct. 1

Hispanic Heritage Month Sept 15-Oct 15

The Global Read Aloud Oct. 3- Nov. 11

Black Poetry Day – Oct. 17

Teen Read Week Oct. 9-15

National Day on Writing – Oct 20

National Family Literacy Day -Nov 1

Picture Book Month – November

American Indian Heritage Month- November

African American Read In- February

World Read Aloud Day – Feb 16, 2017

Read Across America Day -March 2, 2017

World Book Day March 2, 2017

World Storytelling Day March 20, 2017

D.E.A.R. Day (Drop Everything and Read) April 12, 2017

National Poetry Month- April

National Library Week April 10-16, 2017

Children’s Book Day- April 30, 2017

Children’s Book Week – May 1-7, 2017

You can also celebrate:

Author’s Birthdays, Book Birthdays,&  Book Awards

If you are like me, you love any excuse to celebrate books, authors, writing, and reading! Let’s ignite in our kids a genuine love of literacy. When we  rejoice and honor the role of literacy in our lives and our world we are giving our students an incredible gift.

What’s On My Book Radar?

screen-shot-2016-09-16-at-11-52-20-amFans of Jennifer Nielsen will be thrilled with her latest book, The Scourge.  In true Nielsen fashion, it was a page-turner that I didn’t want to put down. Ani Mells lived during the time of the scourge- a plague from which no one recovers. When she is diagnosed with the scourge and sentenced to  Attic Island, the colony where victims live out the end of their painfully short lives, her loyal friend, Weevil, makes a brave decision to make sure Ani doesn’t die alone. But when Ani gets to the colony she makes some discoveries that may save others from her terrible fate, if only she lives long enough to reveal the secrets!  I am thrilled that this is a stand-alone book. I love a good series, but there is something satisfying with a well-told tale in a single text. I highly recommend this book to all middle-grade readers and their teachers! I think you’ll be mesmerized, too!