How Can We Encourage Our Colleagues’ Writing?

If you read this blog, you probably know I am passionate about literacy.  It is easy to find colleagues who want to talk books and share new titles.  I’m part of many reading communities both in person and online.  When we ask teachers, “Are you a reader?” they almost always answer with an enthusiastic, “Yes!” and follow with their favorite genres or titles.  When we ask teachers, “Are you a writer?” they often look apologetically and respond with, “Not really.” or  “Not a very good one.

There are a myriad of reasons why this is so, but lately I have been pondering my role in this.  What do I do to encourage more writing from my colleagues? Well, a few things:     

  • I have some sections in my book Close Writing: Developing Purposeful Writers in Grades 2-6 (Teacher Mentor Texts p. 66, Teacher Writing Group & Teacher Mentors p. 90-98, as well as Walking the Proverbial Mile p. 229-230) in which I offer support to teachers for their writing.
  • I have hosted Teachers Write get-togethers at a local bookstore for the past few years with teachers in my district to work on personal projects.
  • I have participated in the Slice of Life Challenge with Two Writing Teachers each March and gave feedback to dozens and dozens of writers as well as posting my own slices.
  • I encouraged several teachers from my district to participate in the Slice of Life Challenge and four of them started their own blogs. We had a blast together.
  • I give writers notebooks to every new teacher in our district to encourage them to capture that first year of teaching.

This week I want to try something new.  I know not every teacher wants to create their own blog,  it can be time consuming and offer techie-troubles. So I thought why not create the blog platform for them and encourage teachers to share their writing there? I’ve seen very creative posts from teacher friends on social media that capture the chaos of parenting and/or teaching. What if we collected those pieces in one place that could provide inspiration for aspiring writers and an authentic audience for our work?

So today I am launching the blog Just A Moment. I’ve asked a few courageous teacher friends to share their moments, and they agreed. I’m not sure how frequently the moments will be posted, it depends on who I can encourage to share!  I would love to see my fellow slicers share some of their pieces here too. All you have to do is click the CONTACT page on the top of the post and let me know. Also,if you read someone’s moment, I hope that you leave them some words of encouragement. It would take JUST A MOMENT. 

Click HERE to visit Screen Shot 2017-07-21 at 5.33.03 PM

What’s On My Book Radar?

Screen Shot 2017-07-21 at 5.40.54 PM

Magnolia (Maggie) Grace’s mother is divorcing…again. Her stepfather left them for another man and now they are leaving Georgia to live on the farm in Vermont that Maggie’s real father left for her after he was tragically killed. Devastated to leave, she soon finds out what it means to be “home” and what it means to be a family. Slowly she begins to discover the father she never got to know and the mother waiting to break free from “Georgia Rules”.  I found myself sucked right into this charming story and the rich characters Steveson has created as a type of Modern Family meets the Waltons!





#CyberPD Week 3

My blog posts for the month of July will be related to the Cyber PD (online book study) of Vicki Vinton’s Dynamic Teaching for Deeper Reading.

This week we are reading Chapters 7 and 8 of Vicki’s amazing book.  Here are a few of my takeaways.

Chapter 7: Creating Opportunities for Readers to Interpret

  • Readers interpret text as a transaction-readers often have very different interpretations.
  • Readers develop coherent interpretations by looking for patterns and clues that help us understand what the author is trying to tell us.
  • “The Middle” of narratives requires different thinking than the beginning.
  • “The End” of narratives can help us see what the writer is trying to show us.
  • Returning to the beginnings to spot overlooked clues and notice details can help readers to learn to think more deeply and notice more purposefully how authors craft texts.
  • Once you see the whole it is easier to analyze the pieces and see what is missing.
  • Ask WHY questions.  Why is the writer telling me this?

Chapter 8: Creating Opportunities for Readers to Consider the Implications of Facts

  • Nonfiction is more varied than fiction: lots of subgenres with different structures and purposes.
  • Readers need to be made aware of how does this text work?
  • Fiction unfolds, nonfiction is compartmentalized.
  • Aboutitis” is the endless learning about something without developing an empowering and enlightening body of understanding.
  • T-Charts to track students thinking can be a helpful way to analyze nonfiction. (What We Are Confused About/What We Understand)
  • You don’t need to pre-teach all vocabulary or activate all prior knowledge. Give readers opportunities to grapple with uncertainty and learn to think deeply.
  • Help readers pay attention to when they are confused-this is where greater learning can happen.

As I have been all summer, I am sketchnoting my thinking as I read to help me visualize and process information.  Here are the sketchnotes from this week’s reading:

Screen Shot 2017-07-19 at 1.56.25 PM

Screen Shot 2017-07-19 at 1.56.15 PM

Screen Shot 2017-07-19 at 1.56.05 PM

I played around using color this week.  It’s a work in progress…as always!

#CyberPD Week 2

Screen Shot 2017-07-01 at 9.21.11 AM

My blog posts for the month of July will be related to the Cyber PD (online book study) of Vicki Vinton’s Dynamic Teaching for Deeper Reading.

While Chapters 1-4 of Dynamic Teaching for Deeper Reading were all about the “what” and the “why”, chapters 5 and 6 started getting into the “how” and “when” of the teaching.  Some of my biggest takeaways?

  • Determining whether or not to model.  Does it expand possibilities or limit thinking/behavior?
  • Thinking about how often my questions are open ended.
  • Really focusing on slowing down and going deeper (being comfortable with uncertainty).
  • Looking for texts (and places in texts) that I can chunk to help facilitate deeper thinking.
  • Creating “Know/Wonder” charts that track student thinking.
  • Contemplating text structure to create low stakes writing prompts.
  • Focusing on “Bring-in-the-Author” moves so students can see the purposeful decisions that writers make.
  • Creating opportunities for students to be the teacher.

Here are my sketchnotes that captured my deeper thinking:

Screen Shot 2017-07-11 at 9.37.04 AMScreen Shot 2017-07-11 at 9.37.13 AMScreen Shot 2017-07-11 at 9.37.23 AMScreen Shot 2017-07-11 at 9.37.30 AM

My goal is to color in those ideas that I plan to incorporate into lessons, as a way to use my sketchnotes more interactively and encourage me to revisit them more purposefully.


#CyberPD Week 1

Screen Shot 2017-07-01 at 9.21.11 AM

My blog posts for the month of July will be related to the Cyber PD (online book study) of  Vicki Vinton’s Dynamic Teaching for Deeper Reading. While reading the first 4 chapters I found myself agreeing, wondering, questioning, and sketchnoting.  Here are my visual notes and wonderings for Chapters 1-4.

Screen Shot 2017-07-05 at 5.14.50 PMScreen Shot 2017-07-05 at 5.15.04 PMScreen Shot 2017-07-05 at 5.15.13 PMScreen Shot 2017-07-05 at 5.15.21 PM



Screen Shot 2017-07-05 at 5.15.31 PM















I love starting with a theoretical frame of reference, but I must say I am now eager to see what this looks like in practice.

If you’d like to join in on the conversation you can follow the hashtag #CyberPD on Twitter and/or Google+.

It is great to see the reactions and thoughts of other readers.  If you read the posts of others, please leave them a comment to keep the conversation going.

#CyberPD is the “Place” To Be!

Screen Shot 2017-07-01 at 9.21.11 AM

I am so excited to be a part of this summer’s CyberPD2017.  Thanks to Cathy Mere and Michelle Nero  we can join a larger conversation with passionate professionals to discuss and learn from Vicki Vinton‘s latest book Dynamic Teaching for Deeper Reading. This infographic provides the schedule for this online PD.  All you need to do is get a copy of this fantastic book, read along, share your thoughts each week around specific chapters with a reflection in the sources listed below, as well as respond and comment on at least 3 other participants reflections.

How To Participate:

There are several ways to join in the conversation:

1. Join the Google+ Community

2. Tweet UP on Twitter:

3. Post reflections on your own blog (and share the links via #CyperPD)

4. Follow along on the Padlet here:

Made with Padlet

You can also follow Vicki Vinton at her incredible Blog

I’ll be sharing some of my thinking on this blog, but also on Twitter, Google+, and Padlet. Hope to “see” you there!

What’s On My Book Radar?Screen Shot 2017-07-01 at 9.42.48 AM

I am really drawn to the nostalgic fiction that Lauren Wolk creates from captivating characters and luscious settings. In Beyond the Bright Sea,we meet Crow, a 12 year old girl who washed up on the shore of an island as in infant. She and Osh, a loner who rescued her, have built a life together. But Crow is curious about her past and rumors that she may have been born on a leper colony on the now abandoned island of Penikese. She spots a fire one night on the island that signals the beginning of a chain of events which threaten her life with Osh. A story of hope, hazards, and heroism that will stay with you after you close the book.


Sketchy Professional PD

Summer is a time that many teachers choose their own professional development. Many of us take courses, attend conferences and workshops, or read professional books to enhance our teaching. I’ll be doing those things as well, but I’ll be doing it a little different this summer.

For the past couple of years I’ve kept a sketchnote journal for attending conferences and workshops.  It has really shaped the way I think about the information being presented as well as my ability to revisit the information and reflect more deeply with what resonated.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This summer I want to apply that way of thinking and responding to my professional reading and my podcast listening as well.  As I am reading or listening, I tune in to what information inspires, challenges, or connects with my current thinking.  I listen for “ah-ha’s” and visualize how that might look with my own teaching or in my life.  Sometimes I sketchnote right then, other times I let things percolate and sketch what ‘sticks’.

I give it a little time and then as I revisit my sketchnotes I add small details and doodles as I meditate on the message-helping to internalize the ideas and epiphanies from the pages. I think I am going to work in black and white this summer, and then add color later to things that I plan to (or have) incorporate into my teaching and coaching. I want these to be interactive and inspirational.  There are too many books I’ve read where I have thought, “That’s a great idea!” and then never applied it to my teaching.  I’m hopeful that this approach will change that.

So here’s to another summer of personalized PD.  May it be enlightening, inspiring, and sketchy!

What’s On My Book Radar?

Screen Shot 2017-06-24 at 1.36.55 PM

Initially this book reminded me of some favorites (Maze Runner, Island of the Blue Dolphins, Scar Island) but it quickly developed into a thoughtful and poignant tale that embraced and exposed the joys and fears of childhood. “Nine on an island, orphans all, Any more, the sky might fall.” An idyllic island where once a year a boat arrives with a young orphan (a care) and the oldest orphan (elder) must depart the same day. This ‘changing’ brings stability to the island but uncertainty for those coming and going. On the day Jinny’s best friend, Deen, must depart she becomes the elder and must care for the new child, Ess. With new responsibilities and the inevitability of her limited time on the island, Jinny must come of age with no mentor. She discovers choices have consequences that affect others and that growing up reveals the world doesn’t revolve around you. This book is extraordinary-I couldn’t recommend it more. It will leave you thinking and talking about this book with kids and adults for a long time.

What if We Rethought Summer Learning

Screen Shot 2017-06-10 at 6.56.00 AMMost schools, mine included, put together a lot of effort to prevent summer slide. We offer summer school, we send home books, we create reading  lists, we put practice packets together, we send postcards to every single student. We can only hope that our students stay engaged with literacy and math. But we know many won’t and we know there are a variety of reasons that impact this. We often see it as a failure when scores go down after ten weeks of “nothing”. Many families do not have the ability to continue on an academic atmosphere that would support the activities we offer, and others simply need a break from traditional learning models…they need a vacation from “doing school”.

I think if we focus our efforts too much on the verbal-linguistic or the logical-mathematic “intelligences” and evaluate learning only through those lenses, we are missing out on helping our students develop greater potential in summer learning. I know there is an ongoing debate regarding multiple intelligences, but there should be no debate in valuing children as whole human beings and not just readers, writers, and mathematicians. What if we plant the seed in these children that summer is a time to grow as a human and not just a student. What would that look like?

We could remind them that summer is a time to explore their passions and interests and encourage them to take advantage of that time.

Love music? Listen to it- a lot! Be purposeful and aware of what the artist is doing or saying that draws you to their music. Make connections between artists and songs. Look at the lyrics without the music-does it change what you think about the work? Could you imagine those lyrics with a different tune? Try listening to some new styles of music-give it a chance and if you don’t enjoy it, try to analyze why? Explore your relationship to music.

Love to be active? Summer is a time to break away from that desk and chair and move your body. Explore new activities: yoga, running, skipping rope, bike riding, dancing, karate, swimming.  Take walks in different places and observe your surroundings. Tune into your body during and after physical activity. What do you notice? How do you feel? Can you increase your stamina or skill in an activity this summer? Our children need to develop life long habits for healthy physical activity-summer is a great time to experiment, learn, and build those habits.

Love to be social? It’s often hard in school to be as social as you’d like-we often need quiet times and focused conversation. Summer is a great time to develop those interpersonal skills. Take time to notice how you interact with others. Are you a good listener? Do you ask others questions or do you just offer your own thoughts/comments? Do you engage differently with older and younger people? How do your conversations vary depending on situation and people?  Tuning in to how you interact with people is a valuable skill that everyone could use more practice with.

Love nature?  Summer offers us so many opportunities to get outside and observe the natural world. Jane Goodall started her career simply observing. Encouraging students to carefully and patiently notice the nature in their own back yards can build an appreciation for our environment, develop focused attention spans, spark curiosity and scientific wonder, and offer them solace from the busyness of the world. When kids can appreciate the life of caterpillars and ants, they can begin to see the world doesn’t necessarily revolve around us (humans) and can encourage greater empathy for the struggles all living creatures face.

Love art? Summer is the gift of time for artists.  Encourage children to explore various mediums and approaches to expressing their ideas through art. Take risks with creating your art without being graded or judged.  Break the “rules” and don’t follow directions-play with materials and see what emerges. Art is therapy. Art is self-expression. Art is a way of seeing. Art is a way of being. If a child explored art all summer and never picked up a book, I would define that as successful learning (and my entire life is focused on the love of literacy!)

So yes, our students may SLIDE over the summer in some aspects of learning, but they may also SOAR if we encourage them to explore their interests, find their passions, and take charge of their own learning. We don’t have to abandon our efforts to prevent summer slide, but we would do ourselves and our students a service by expanding our definition of learning and look for ways to set our students on the path to life-long learning beyond the classroom walls and curriculums.


What’s On My Book Radar?

Screen Shot 2017-06-10 at 7.32.21 AM

The Exact Location of Home by Kate Messner

Wow, Kate has done it again…created a beautiful story that reflects the real-life challenges so many of our students are facing, and she does it without preachy moralistic overtones-just simple empathy and compassion. Kirby “Zig” Zigonski lives with his mother who is working and going to nursing school-he hasn’t seen his father in years. Each planned visit is cancelled and Zig begins to think his dad is leaving him clues as to why through geocaching. With the help of his friend Gianna (The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z) and a GPS they follow the “clues” but find more than they anticipated. With the rise of homelessness for many of our students, I think this is another powerful “windows and mirrors” book to add to our classroom collections.  I was lucky to get an advanced copy- this book will hit the shelves October 3rd. You’ll definitely want to pre-order this one!


Guest Blogging

2017 LFA Speaker share grahic

This fall I will be a featured speaker at the Literacy For All Conference in Providence, Rhode Island. I’m looking forward to joining some amazing speakers for two days of exceptional professional development. Recently the Lesley Center asked me, as one of their presenters,  to contribute to their literacy blog.  The Lesley University Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative is a leader in literacy education and I was honored to be asked. So that will be my blog post for this week.

Here’s a link to my post:  MAKING THE INVISIBLE, VISIBLE!

You should check out Lesley’s blog and if you are looking for professional development next year-I highly recommend Literacy For All-check that out here:


What’s On My Book Radar

Screen Shot 2017-06-04 at 6.51.24 PMEncyclopedia of an Ordinary Life

by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Not only was Amy Krouse Rosenthal an extraordinary human being, she was a talented and creative writer. In this book she adapted moments from her life into an encyclopedia format. With her humorous and sometimes emotional perspective on those “ordinary” slices of life, AKR shows us that ordinary is what makes life so special. You don’t have to read this cover to cover-her entries are alphabetized and not necessarily chronological. This book could be a mentor text for writing, as well as living!

Punctuation? Seriously!

Screen Shot 2017-05-27 at 8.51.09 PM“!#$&!” said the teacher under her breath as she looked at yet another paper without proper punctuation! We’ve taught it. We’ve modeled it. They still aren’t using it. What’s up? There’s no easy answer to this one, but often the students are so focused on their message and WHAT they want to say, that little attention is given to showing HOW it should be read. Punctuation is simply the directions given to a reader for how to read the words. Student writers are often focused only on the words, which is at the heart of making meaning.

Think about how we teach punctuation. Very often it is taught during writing. We want students to use it effectively in their own writing. We assume they are using it during reading, but are they? Listen to your students read and notice if there are pauses or prosody that convey the use of punctuation to dictate HOW the author intended the reading to sound. When students do not phrase, pause, or give voice to dialogue they may be focused on the words with little attention to punctuation. Most will stop at periods, but some do not.

So how can we help students to attend to punctuation and understand its purposeful use? Don’t relegate it solely to the domain of the writing workshop. This is one area where reciprocity can be a powerful approach to teach the purpose and use of a skill. I’ve got a few ideas that may help, and I’d love to hear how you may be teaching it with your students.


Punctuation Scavenger Hunt

Screen Shot 2017-05-27 at 8.54.14 PMChoose a variety of punctuation that you would like your students to use more purposefully (! ,. -: ;““) and create a scavenger hunt template. Students need to find examples of how an author crafted a sentence using the punctuation effectively; citing the book and page number so that it can be verified.

Punctuation Mentor Sentences Screen Shot 2017-05-27 at 8.56.22 PM

After students find examples of purposeful punctuation, create mentor sentence cards, anchor charts, photo albums, etc. that students can reference and that teachers can re- visit. These will heighten awareness of why punctuation is needed and remind students to use them.

Punctuation Mentor Texts

There are many fun books out there that talk about punctuation and conventions that we can share with students to accentuate their importance: Punctuation Celebration, Greedy Apostrophe: A Cautionary Tale, Eats, Shoots & Leaves: Why, Commas Really Do Make a Difference! Twenty-Odd Ducks: Why, Every Punctuation Mark Counts! The Girl’s Like Spaghetti: Why, You Can’t Manage Without Apostrophes! Punctuation Takes a Vacation Exclamation Mark

There are also mentor texts with interesting and effective punctuation: Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type, Yo! Yes? No, David! Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!

Do This, Not That


Screen Shot 2017-05-27 at 9.01.23 PM

Using mentor sentence examples, create an anchor chart that shares those sentences on the DO THIS side and then strips away the punctuation to share those sentences on the NOT THAT side. You could create a separate chart for commas, dialogue, colons, semi-colons, even periods and capital letters. Whatever you are focusing on, create a chart that reminds students to be purposeful.

Punctuation Dictation

Choose several mentor sentences to use for dictation (or find examples from books they are currently reading). Read each sentence aloud with appropriate pausing and prosody so that students learn to listen for the punctuation. Invite them to write the sentence with the proper punctuation. (spelling may, or may not be the focus if you want them to listen for punctuation)

Punctuation Read Aloud

During a shared reading in which students can see the text (document camera, big book, SmartBoard) do a punctuation read aloud. Read the name of the punctuation as well as the words. Ex. “Come here,” said Dad. =”Quotation marks come here comma quotation marks said Dad period.” One teacher I know invites the class to make a sound effect for each of the punctuation used as they do a choral reading. The idea is to draw students’ attention to the equal importance of words and punctuation in a written message.


I hope you’ll continue to teach punctuation during your writing lessons, and maybe by sprinkling more of it into our reading lessons we can see some of that purposeful reciprocity in our own students reading and writing. I’d love to hear how these ideas work for your students, and any ideas you have that work with your readers and writers!

What’s On My Book Radar

Screen Shot 2017-05-27 at 9.08.23 PMThe Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell

Feodora and her mother live in the isolated woods of Russia during the reign of Tsar Nicolas II. They take in wolves the bourgeois could not tame as pets and “wild” them so they can be free once again. All is well until the Russian army comes calling. Feo must find the wild inside herself to save her beloved wolves and free her captured mother before it is too late. An inspiring story of resistance and revolution that will find you cheering for the wild inside all of us. A Maine Student Book Award nominee and a favorite of many, many students.

How Do You Eat an Elephant?

One Bite at a Time
artwork by Melissa Washburn (please visit

There are times of the year when the demands of work and life can become overwhelming. As we transition from one season, holiday, life event, or even school term to the next, we often find our TO DO lists becoming increasingly long and daunting.  I’ve always been a list maker.  It has helped me enormously in shifting the burden from my working memory to a surrogate memory holder (post its, bullet journal, scrap paper, etc.) and has alleviated a great deal of stress.  Trying to remember everything that needs to be done, is only one of the challenges that needs attention, however.

Once we transfer our intended tasks to paper, how do we tackle the enormity of what we hope to accomplish?  Rarely do we go down a list and systematically check off an entire task before initiating the next. We tend to multi-task and look for ways to combine activities to accomplish more. How many of you are like me and jot a few items on the list you have already completed, just so you can feel some sense of satisfaction and avoid a sense of defeat?

How do you prioritize your To-Dos?  Do you try to pick the “low hanging fruit” and get the simple tasks out of the way? That can help you feel like you are making a dent, but then you are left with the more difficult tasks when you are often more tired and frazzled. Do you try to take on the big tasks and then see nothing checked off as completed at the day’s end? I don’t believe there is ONE right way to prioritize, it really depends upon the personality of the person creating the list.

However, there is one thing I have done this past year that has helped me immensely. TINY GOALS.  I realized I was often procrastinating on complex tasks because I knew I couldn’t finish them. But now I look at the task and set tiny goals to break it down into more manageable chunks.  For example, I was working on my National Boards and many of the component pieces were time consuming and complicated and I would need to work on them after a long day of teaching or on my weekends. In the past I would have put them off and done some other things that took less mental energy. But by setting a tiny goal: I’m just going to write one paragraph for this section, I didn’t feel so overwhelmed and I got it done. I felt accomplished, and after several days the section was done. In the past I would have stressed for several days about getting the section done, with no work to show for it.

Sometimes I set a timer. I’m only going to work on this for 15 minutes. At the end of that time I usually stop, without guilt. Sometimes however, I find the energy and motivation to keep going a bit longer. Either way, I have done more in 15 minutes than I would have done procrastinating because the task was emotionally exhausting.

Think about some task that you have been putting off or stressing out over.  What could you reasonable tackle in 10 or 15 minutes today? Create a tiny goal that is achievable and take a bite out of that task. Celebrate your success. Remind yourself that you have moved closer to completion and alleviated a bit of stress.  Realize just how doable this is. Don’t push yourself past your tiny goal unless you are enthusiastically motivated-otherwise you are defeating the purpose for setting them.

Though I hate the thought of eating an elephant, the saying rings so true! Turn those bites into tiny goals and reframe your idea of success and you might alleviate a lot of stress in your life the way I did!

What’s On My Book Radar?

Screen Shot 2017-05-21 at 8.53.20 AM

Moving Target by Christina Diaz Gonzalez

Cassie Arroyo is an American student who is studying in Rome with her father, an art history professor. One day her life is turned upside down when her father pulls her from school unexpectedly and they are chased by gunmen.  Her father is wounded but gives Cassie mysterious directions and scant information before she leaves him at the hospital. She flees to her friends home and together, with the help of a secret organization they try to decipher the clues to help her find her now missing father, and find out why she is the target of assassination. Lots of twists and turns in this fast-paced middle grade novel. I loved it even more because I had just visited many of the sites in Rome that are settings for this mystery and I always love strong female protagonists.  A Maine Student Book Award nominee that is worth a read!