All posts by paulabourque

About paulabourque

Paula is a Literacy Coach K-6 in Maine and author of Close Writing and SPARK! from Stenhouse. She believes the best writing teachers are teachers who write. She knows it takes courage to put yourself out there and share your words with the world. She created this blog as a place where we honor those who teach and write and show how big their brave is!

Differentiation is NOT a Four-Letter-Word

It doesn’t take multiple data points to figure out that there are a wide range of abilities in our classrooms. In fact, it only takes a few moments of instruction and engagement to realize that fact. We know they have different needs and our instruction must somehow meet all of those needs. This is why differentiation is key to success in our classrooms.

But what is differentiation? How are we supposed to meet the needs of such a diverse range of learners?

We can start by having conversations within our districts and schools about a common definition and understanding so that we are all on the same page with expectations. We can talk about what differentiation IS as well as what it IS NOT (like individualized lesson plans for all students!?!)

We can start with visualizing what it could look like and re-imagining our understandings. We could use this video by ESOL teacher and author Larry Ferlazzo to help us envision a common understanding and jump-start our conversations. I think this could ease a lot of stress teachers are experiencing when they think about trying to differentiate for all of their students.

So before you find your pulse quickening and blood pressure rising at the thought of differentiating for your students, give this video a view and have some collegial conversations. Differentiation isn’t a four letter word!

Beyond “First Day Jitters” Back to School Book Ideas

Looking for some fun read alouds to ease those first day nerves, inspire a growth mindset, and or/ make that first day with your students memorable? Here are some suggestions that might help and that students may not have heard many times already. If you have more ideas, please leave a comment. Click the BUY ON AMAZON tab to read more about each title, but you can borrow these books from a library or visit your favorite independent book seller to support their business, too.

What’s On the Menu?

Coaching Menu Boards

As I start my 35th year in education, I am ready to get back into my blogging.

I know this is going to be a challenging one for teachers. I am trying to re-imagine coaching to support them even more than ever before. Because I work at so many buildings (4) it is hard to set up coaching cycles, but we are really looking at this as an option this year and trying to think outside the proverbial box.

To help me address needs more effectively this year, I am playing with the idea of a COACHING MENU BOARD. This would let teachers know how coaching could help them more specifically. It gives them an easy way to consider options and reach out and the easier I can make it, the more likely they will utilize the supports.

Here is my first attempt/draft. I know I will be revising it because I am a tweaker and I will need to run this by my admin, but I’m feeling inspired by the possibilities.

And we all need a little inspiration moving into this school year.

I Am What I Read: 5 Ways to Nurture Reading Identity

Though I wrote this blog for Nerdy Book Club five years ago, I still believe it and it is still as relevant as ever. How do you nurture reading identity with your students? I’d love to hear.

I Am What I Read: 5 Ways to Nurture Reading Identity by Paula Bourque

One Year

It was Friday the 13th, 2020. Several of my friends across the country had posted that their schools were shut down overnight for two weeks. Our district was still making plans for a workshop the following week, while teachers were wondering what was going to happen next.

I knew in my heart we were not coming back the next week. There were too many unknowns to keep operating like “business as usual”. So I posted this to Facebook before school that morning:

That last line was added when I was told I might be “scaring people” and was asked to take it down. And it was true, I didn’t have any inside information, I just wanted our kiddos to have books in their homes in case they couldn’t get them from school.

I rifled through the piles and shelves of books in my house, filling shopping bags and brought about 100 to school with me. I added my collection of ARCs to them and piled a library cart full that I took from room to room. I invited students to choose 2 or 3 books they would like to read at home. No panic. Just book love.

I will never know if they were read, and I haven’t seen these books again. But I felt better in the coming weeks and months knowing these kiddos had books to keep them company.

We could never have imagined a year ago today how much our world would change, how different teaching and learning would look. I hope that knowledge empowers us to realize we can do hard things. Change is a constant, it just usually doesn’t occur so fast and furious, but I believe we will be stronger and more resilient in facing whatever comes in the next year. We can only begin to imagine what that will look like.

How About This Instead of Testing?

This week the Education Department announced that states must give standardized tests and may use them for previously established purposes: teacher evaluations, school grades, or graduation requirements, etc. (although with some flexibility.) Teachers are feeling gobsmacked.

In a year when remote students struggle to complete SeeSaw activities or even log in to a Google Meet they are expected to complete a strenuous high stakes test online (and do their best!) When hybrid students are getting 2 days of direct instruction and teachers struggle to create meaningful learning for both in person and off campus days they will be assessed on how well they fill in the dots on a task someone else has deemed necessary -to stress us out even more. Even students who have been in person this year may have lost loved ones, lived with stressed family members, and experienced worries no recent generation has endured.

The information we get back months from now will be useless in driving instruction (even more so than ever before). Teachers and students have been resiliently adapting to ever-changing conditions during a global pandemic that have required us to flexibly respond on a moment’s notice to incoming information. Waiting for data that will be months old (and neither reliable or valid) does not support our efforts. It does, however, offer a myriad of opportunities for societal shaming of teachers, students and families!

Want to know what our kids are learning? Let’s ask them. Instead of a standardized test that better reflects affluence and privilege, let’s ask them to create something that memorializes this year for them. Something that demonstrates their grit, flexibility, caring, courage, creativity…you name it. These kids have been through a year of learning like no other in history and no correct number of filled in bubbles can capture their true learning.

Ask them to produce a documentary with multimedia. Create a comic. Draft a memoir. Collect artifacts that tell their story of the pandemic year. Draw, paint, compose a song, or craft a poem. (Don’t forget the reliable old diorama!) Think of the collection this generation could create that would memorialize their determination, their sacrifices, their unique experiences. What if the Dept. of Education used the millions of dollars dedicated to testing companies and instead created a national archive dedicated to our students! How amazing would THAT be?

It wouldn’t be OPTing out. It would be an OPTional, OPTimistic, OPTimizing, OPTimum OPTion for our students. It would be an opportunity for our world to celebrate what our children have accomplished in surviving and thriving during this incredible year of pandemic teaching and learning. It would be something more long-lasting, meaningful, and insightful.

Which one would be more valuable?

May be an image of 1 person
UNICEF images “Children in Bangladesh are using art to express their thoughts and feelings about the pandemic.”


We are almost a year into this pandemic. A year of teaching like no other I’ve experienced in 34 years of being an educator. Some feel like there is light at the end of the tunnel, while others feel much less optimistic. But this situation, like most things in life is actually quite ephemeral in the context of time.

Ephemerality is defined by Wikipedia as:

We often think of ephemerality with aesthetically pleasing things that are only temporary. Like this morning when I woke up to a beautiful sunrise, and within 5 minutes there was no evidence it ever existed.

I’ve had some conversations this week with teachers where we discussed the challenges and hardships of teaching this past year. And though everyone certainly noted the difficulties, every single one found some good in it as well. We wondered how we could hang onto some of those positive aspects and experiences when we move out of crisis teaching? And if we can’t, how can we try to appreciate their ephemerality?

But just because something is ephemeral doesn’t mean it doesn’t influence us. In fact, it’s often the ephemeral aspects of life that bring us greatest appreciation, awe, and joy.

As we move into the next week of school, maybe we could try to notice and appreciate the ephemerality of COVID TEACHING. What lasting effects will this have on us after it is gone? What do we want to bring forward with us? How can it help us cultivate gratitude and grace?

Daily Doodle 2021

Sure 2021 is well under way…we have one month behind us and a groundhog telling us how the next 6 weeks are going to go, but it is the perfect time to try one of my favorite documenting activities…THE DAILY DOODLE.

All you need is some kind of weekly planner (and the prices are slashed on these for 2021!!) or notebook paper, pens, colored pencils, or your favorite writing tools.

Then you reflect on each day and choose an image or two that comes to mind that documents some part of your day. It can be personal, political, historical, comical…ANYTHING. You create a quick doodle to capture what you visualize. Use icons, stick people, scribbles or play with your drawing skills if you enjoy that. Color it in if you like color, or leave it as a line drawing. Add a caption or brief description of the event and you have a DAILY DOODLE!

One of my favorite tools to help me doodle is The Noun Project Here you can type in any word (and it does not have to be a noun) and they will share a collection of icons that are easy for anyone to use.

Icons from The Noun Project

Here is a snapshot of some of my recent doodles.

Paula’s Week of Daily Doodles

When I look back over my 2020 Book of Daily Doodles I can see at a glance how wild the year was. Each image brings me back to certain moments without having to read an entire journal entry . It is pretty powerful stuff. I hope you give it a try this year. You certainly won’t regret it!


WHEN YOU TRAP A TIGER by Tae KellerI can see why this book won the Newbery Award– a beautiful tale about the power of love and of stories. Lily and her mother and sister move in with their sick Halmoni (Korean for grandmother). Lily is startled when she is visited by a tiger who claims her Halmoni stole something from the tigers and tries to make a deal with Lily to get it back. However, Halmoni has always cautioned to never trust the tigers. This realistic fantasy will have you questioning who/what to believe when you want so desperately for reality to be different. Loved it.

The Power of Silence

Have you ever been listening to someone and then they stop talking and fall silent? Suddenly you find your awareness piqued or you are attempting to rewind what they said to see if you have missed something. Was the silence an invitation? An emphasis?

Silence is a powerful tool that great speakers and leaders use to:

  • Emphasize a point
  • Create a sense of authority
  • Read and understand others
  • Choose their words wisely and intentionally
  • Make others feel heard
  • Negotiate more strategically

It’s a tool teachers can use, too. When we share ideas or content with students and then allow for silence, we invite contemplation, questioning, visualizing. That silence is filled with so much thinking. Perhaps not at first, as students may seem confused or disoriented by the void of information coming at them. But if we make it a practice they will build a habit.

I know it is even more difficult, a seeming luxury, during pandemic teaching where every moment has to count and we are racing to keep up with teaching and learning as our time is so limited. But if we do not offer some of that time for absorption our students become overwhelmed (super saturated) with information and we may experience a further gap between what we teach and what they learn.

I’m not talking about ‘time outs’ or meditation as much as trying a few small adjustments.

  • Notice how long you give for wait time after questioning. 10 seconds can feel like a long time for students who are used to none. The quiet can nudge them out of their comfort zones or give them time to really process what is being asked.
  • Pause after sharing information you think is important. Give it time to sink in. Give them time to visualize. Give them time to recognize, “Oh, that must be important!”
  • Pause before giving feedback to a student response. That time may be an opening for the student to reflect on their thinking, revise or add to their thinking, and evaluate their thinking before you do.

Some of you may already do these things regularly with students. If so, I’d love to hear what effects you think it plays on their learning. Wishing you all a great week out there.


Growing up can be tough. It can be hard to determine what is normal and what is not. It can be hard to set boundaries when the people we are supposed to trust give mixed messages. It is hard to be a girl growing into a woman in a complex world. Lydia doesn’t like the way some boys talk to her, or treat her at school but the nuns tell her to pray and God will help her ignore and cope with it. She doesn’t like the extra long hugs her mom’s boyfriend gives her, or how he asks her to keep secrets about candy he sneaks her. She’s confused about whether it’s harmless or not, but when her cousin who lives with them discusses the same troubling doubts, she realizes it’s not ok. A difficult read, but one that could make a huge difference in the lives of girls trying to navigate these situations. As Lydia learns, “You matter. Your thoughts matter. Your feelings matter. Your body matters. You matter just as much as anyone else. To yourself, you can matter the most.” Middle school and up

Notebooking Class

Saturdays in January (in Maine) can be very hygge. I love to curl up with a book in front of the fire and read. This January I am curling up with my computer and notebook in hand for an online class. Notebooking 101 with Michelle Haseltine-my notebooking shero!

She is so generous with ideas and examples of how she notebooks for herself and with her students. She shares the same passion for pens and art supplies that I do. She inspires me to create. (and her dog thinks she is “the cat’s meow”, too!)

Here are my notebooked notes from the first two classes:

Looking forward to learning some new techniques, ideas, and layouts that I can share with others and play with in my notebook! Now I need to go work on some National Board writing, but I’ll be diving back into my notebooks later and I’ll be blogging more about notebooking.

Do you notebook? I’d love to hear about it.


THIS IS YOUR BRAIN ON STEREOTYPES by Tanya Lloyd Kyi and Drew Shannon
This book takes incredibly complex concepts such as bias, stereotype, prejudice, and discrimination and breaks them down into understandable experiences. The authors share historical perspectives that shed light onto modern day global understandings of these theories and topics. The focus is on understanding how our brains our wired. I learned SO much about human behavior and my own implicit biases. Have you ever heard of “affective-contagion”, “stereotype threat”, “blind auditions”, “ambient belonging”, “nerd factor”, “self-categorizing” or “contact hypothesis”? Well, I hadn’t either, but I’m now much more aware. Your students will be, too, if you share this incredible book with them. Not preachy or judgy…a very brain-researched-based look at how we have been wired to sort and label the world as a survival mechanism, but how it can have unintended consequences for our relationships and for our social policies. A Must-Read for kids from 8 to 80!