Why I Want My Child’s Teacher to Vacation

From social media posts, I follow the summers of many teaching friends. Inevitably there are also posts that sometimes subtly (sometimes overtly) attempt to guilt teachers for “so much time off”.  This post isn’t going to try to convince people that it really isn’t as much time as they’d like to think. This post is explaining why I want my child’s teachers to savor this time off, why I believe their vacation is in my child’s best interest.

I want my child to have a teacher who…

  • Traveled to new places that can bring back into the classroom and share parts of the world (and my state) that my child may never have seen.
  • Tried new things so they can remember how important that discovery is for learning.
  • Spent some time in nature to boost their mental and physical well-being so they can better appreciate my own child’s well-being.
  • Had time with their own families so they can remember and appreciate how vital that is for all families.
  • Read lots of books so they can better recommend titles and match books to my child’s (and all readers’) interests and needs.
  • Had time to take a class, attend a workshop, or engage in self-directed professional development so they can use new approaches and strategies to better teach my child.
  • Had time to step back, reflect, and gain some distance in order to look forward with fresh eyes.
  • Were able to truly relax. Research shows these people are happier, and I want my child surrounded by happier people.
  • Took a time out from the classroom and away from my child because there is truth to the saying, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder”.
  • Was able to fill their bucket so it won’t be empty for my child (or yours). You can’t give what you don’t have.
  • Had time and opportunities to be reminded that there is life beyond the classroom and that that is what they are preparing my child for.

If you have ever felt a twinge of resentment for teachers and their schedules, I just want to leave you with these thoughts:

We can use more passionate teachers in our profession and many come from previous careers that bring incredible experience and insights. If the grass looks greener over here, think about moving onto this lawn.

I want my child to have a teacher with life experiences, extensive interests, a sense of wonder, expanded world views, and a renewed/refreshed enthusiasm for returning each year to teach my child. And I want that for your child, too.

What’s On My Book Radar

Screen Shot 2017-08-05 at 8.08.25 AM.pngAmina’s Voice by Hena Khan

Amina and her best friend Soojin are entering middle school with lots of changes. As a Pakistani-American Muslim girl, Amina’s coming-of-age has some challenges I’ve never faced. Soojin is becoming an American citizen and wants to adopt an “American” name, her mosque is vandalized by hateful members of her community, and her uncle has come to stay with their family with varying views on what it means to be Muslim. We watch how Amina learns to find her voice and look for ways to bring together the people she cares about. We need more “windows and mirrors” books and this was certainly a wonderful window for me to observe the “normal” lives of “diverse” people. #BooksBuildBridges



#CyberPD Week 4

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 finishes up our summer 2017 CyberPD as we finished chapters 9 and 10 of Vicki’s book. If you didn’t get a chance to participate this year, I would definitely recommend you join the Google Community if/when you do read this text.  It was so wonderful getting diverse views, takeaways, and questions. It’s also great to see how others process and share their thinking.

Here are my big takeaways (as sketchnotes):

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What’s On My Book Radar?

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This isn’t the New York we know! Twins Tess and Theo Biedermann and their friend Jaime Cruz live in an apartment designed by the Morningstarrs (the architects from 1800 who created a fantastical city in the 1800’s with technology no one had seen before). The Morningstarrs also left behind ‘The Old York Cipher’ a puzzle laid into the city that promised the solver treasure beyond imagining. When Tess, Theo, and Jaime’s family/neighbors are evicted from their apartment by a nefarious developer these sleuthing kids believe their only hope at saving their home is solving the cipher, but what they find is nothing they could have ever envisioned. If you like a good mystery, and are looking for a new series, Laura Ruby’s creative Cipher stories are for you!

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. 

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What’s On My Book Radar?

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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:

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

#CyberPD Week 2

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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:

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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

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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.

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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!

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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  https://plus.google.com/u/0/communities/107711243109928665922

2. Tweet UP on Twitter:  https://twitter.com/hashtag/cyberpd

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

4. Follow along on the Padlet here:

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You can also follow Vicki Vinton at her incredible Blog https://tomakeaprairie.wordpress.com/

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.

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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?

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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?

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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

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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!