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?

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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.

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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


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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 http://www.melissawashburn.com)

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?

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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!

Blog Break is Over!

If you follow my blog, you may have noticed an absence of posts since the Slice of Life Challenge ended in March.  Though I haven’t been blogging, I have been writing. A week ago I finally finished and submitted the last two components for my National Board work.  Being a National Board Certified Teacher has been on my bucket list, and now it is in the hands of the NBPT assessors.

Anyone who has been through this process can appreciate how grueling and yet how rewarding the work can be.  It is certainly not for the faint of heart. One of the hardest parts is the waiting. (Tom Petty was right).  I won’t get my results until December-that’s SEVEN.LONG.MONTHS.

So to fill that void, left by the nonstop work on my boards, I am happy to announce I have a new project.  My latest book proposal was just accepted by Stenhouse Publishers and so I will be busy working on that manuscript.


The tentative title is Quick Writes: Unlocking Potential in Every K-6 Writer and I’ll be exploring the role of more low-stakes writing for helping students to discover the writer inside and develop skills without the stress of grades or judgement.

And I am eager to return to my blog where I play with ideas, share experiences, and document my teaching journey. But it’s dance recital and Mother’s Day weekend so this one is brief.   Have a great week.

What’s On My Book Radar

Screen Shot 2017-05-13 at 8.44.41 AMThe Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Occasionally I drift away from kidlit land to the world of grown up books, and on a recent trip I downloaded this to my kindle. What a timely tale! When we read about attempts to curb the press, limit women’s choices over their own bodies, and ignore science, facts, and reason we can see the groundwork being laid for a dystopian society like Gilead. Offred is a handmaid in Gilead whose tale was discovered in Bangor, Maine 150 years after she recorded it. She tells of a life stripped of humanity for the sake of law and order and adherence to strict observance of theocracy. I can see why so many people are reading this book right now and I am certainly glad I did.

Why I Write


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Thank you to everyone in the slicing community this month who has helped me to live a more writerly life! I have loved reading about your children, parents, friendships and pets. I was uplifted by your challenges and triumphs. I have been inspired by your creative spirit and style. I appreciated your comments and connections on my own posts. I will continue to follow many of you and hope that our paths will continually cross through life-if not in person than through our words posted online. Keep writing, keep reading, keep living and loving.

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There’s a Shirt Out There Somewhere

slice-of-life_individualI’ve been teaching a long time. So long that I can’t remember all of those moments that I swore

Moe and I sporting our kidlit shirts (that kid on the left is me)

I’d never forget! Last night my friend Moe posted a picture on Facebook of her and I in our early years of teaching together. Back then I taught a first grade and Moe taught a pre-first. Oh man, did we have fun! Just the sight of that one picture flooded me with memories…

I used to read and reread books to my class and then we’d make our own version as a big book. We had quite a collection of Brown Bear Brown Bear, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, Where the Wild Things Are, and anything by Tomie DePaolo. I’d spend hours at home recreating the covers and we’d bind the student pages together. Then we’d read and reread our own versions and keep them in the classroom library.

Each year we’d do at least one class play based on a favorite children’s book-long before readers’ theater became a thing. We’d invite our neighboring classes and even parents if they could come. Of course we’d have to have a cast party and our beloved lunch lady, Joan, always made us the yummiest cookies. Our room was literally where the wild things were.

And one of my favorite activities was creating kidlit character shirts for my students who met their reading goals.  They’d pledge to read a certain number of books and when they succeeded, they could bring me in any shirt and choose any children’s book character and I would draw it on for them. I went through hundreds of fabric markers in those days.

It was fun reading the comments on that Facebook post and reminiscing with those colleagues. But the best comment came from a former student, ” Just as I remember you both 😊 I still have my shirt we made with the Little Critters characters!” That blew me away. This former student is all grown up with kids of her own, but she still has a shirt I made her from first grade. Just goes to show, we never know what kind of impact we’ll make on our students that will linger.Screen Shot 2017-03-29 at 9.16.20 PM

There’s a shirt out there somewhere with Max and a Wild Thing, with Little Critter and his mom, with Strega Nona and her pasta pot, with a coconut tree filled with letters, or a Magic School Bus racing to adventures. Maybe it’s tucked in a drawer, or on a shelf at Goodwill, or even on the child of the owner.

There’s a shirt out there made with love and once worn with pride and I almost forgot it existed.

Sharing a Pint With a Stranger


I try not to let the little things get to me, but it has been raining and sleeting for two dreary days and I was feeling more like hibernating than giving blood last night. I made my appointment  for 5:45 because I almost always have some meeting after school. Well, today I didn’t so I thought I’d go early to see if I could get in. “Can’t take you right now.  Come back in 45 minutes.” the Red Cross volunteer tells me.

“Do I need to get on a list or sign in?” I ask.

“No, just come back in about 45 minutes.” I go home and read through some work on my national boards and then head back. There are more people waiting. So I approach the volunteer  and let her know I’ve returned.

Oh, all these people are ahead of you. It’ll be about 45 minutes.” (UGH.)  I remind her that’s what she told me 45 minutes ago. I realize she hadn’t changed my appointment time.

So if I come back in 45 minutes you’re not saying I’ll get in then are you?”  I ask.

“Well, if no one is ahead of you…”  (UGH. )

“I’ll be back for my 5:45 appointment.” I head back home and do a bit more work, and try it again.

I walk in and only one person is sitting and waiting. I approach volunteer again.”Third time’s a charm I hope.” I smile.

“Do you have an appointment?”….. (UGH. )

A short time later I’m lying on the table, squeezing a small ball, and pumping some O+ into a plastic bag. I was perseverating a bit on the annoyance of the process when I realized how “annoying” it must be to be on the other side of this supply/demand equation.

I’m sharing a pint with someone who was probably having a truly bad day, someone who would trade places with my annoyance in a heartbeat, someone who might not make it through the day without the fruit of my frustration. Perspective, Paula, perspective.

So I’m toasting the pint to the stranger I’ll share it with…

Always remember to forget
The troubles that passed away.
But never forget to remember
The blessings that come each day.

                                                                                                 -Irish Blessing



Privilege Primer


  • “I don’t need to march, I’m not oppressed.” 
  • “They just need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.”
  • “I’m not racist. Those people are just looking for attention.” 
  • “My ancestors came here legally.”
  • “How do you not know what sex you are?”  
  • “They’re rapists, and some I assume are good people
  • “She’s too shrill. She’s such a b***ch!”
  • He shouldn’ta been wearing a hoodie.”
  • They don’t want equal rights, they want special rights.”
  • He’s so disrespectful not standing for the National Anthem.”
  • “I just start kissing them, I don’t even wait.”
  • Nobody helped me!”

What I’ve Learned From My Place of Privilege

Privilege is when you aren’t constantly reminded of…

Your race, your gender, your sexual orientation, your income, your education, Your identity.

Privilege is when you don’t have to fear…

The police, the government, the landlord, the neighborhood watch, your future

Privilege is when you don’t have to think about…

Where you drive, how to talk, what you wear, who you date, where you live, pigmentation

Privilege is when you can choose…

Who you’ll marry,  where to dine, which color of car to drive, what college you’ll attend

Privilege is when you can choose not to…

March for someone’s rights, listen to someone’s pleas, tune in to disturbing news, see color.

Privilege is never having a reason to notice your privilege or deny its existence.

Privilege does not require an apology…but seeks acknowledgement

Privilege does not demand a sense of guilt…but should engender gratitude.

Privilege is not possessed by only few, but often only perceived in others.

My privilege can empower me,

to push others down

or lift others up

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Privilege is real.