nErDcampMI or Bust!

It’s been on my bucket list for six years and I’m finally going to nErDcampMI. The brainchild of teacher/author Colby Sharp, this “uncamp” is free to attend but tickets “sell out” incredibly fast. Teachers from all across the country trek to Parma, Michigan to learn along with some of the nerdiest people on the planet. Kidlit lovers like me will be in heaven, surrounded by a jillion of the most amazing authors and illustrators of our favorite books.

Thanks to a nudge by my author friend Clare Landrigan, (and the fact that my son’s summer soccer days are behind us) I finally booked a ticket for Michigan. It takes a lot for me to leave Maine in the summer and I know this will be totally worth it. Having Clare for a travel/learning buddy will make the experience even more priceless.

I submitted a proposal for Day 1 and was delighted that it was accepted. Day 1 is like a traditional education conference with featured speakers,  while Day 2 is an (un)conference that is self-designed by participants who decide what topics they want to learn about. My session is called “Thinking Through Our Fingers: Reimagining Writing Possibilities”.Screen Shot 2019-07-01 at 3.53.10 PM

I’m on a bit of a mission to expand our definition of writing so that everyone has a place at the writing table. I want us to see the value in all types of writing that can help us explore thinking and feeling, that can help us communicate more, and that is FUN! I’ll proudly be sharing the work that teachers and students have been doing in our Augusta Schools and hopefully come back with even more ideas from nErDy teachers at camp. Here are the sketchnote handouts I’ve created for my session:

I’ll be sketchnoting during other sessions and look forward to sharing new learning with colleagues who couldn’t attend. Summer is a great time for teachers to refill their buckets and I know this will be a huge part of my summer rejuvenation.

One More Off My TBR Stack

Continuing my audiobook summer series I was able to listen to two audiobooks as I traveled to visit my parents in Wisconsin this past week but I’ll share one here.


The Tattoist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

Based on interviews with Holocaust survivor Ludwig Sokolov (Lale–Lah-lay), who became the Tätowierer (tattooist) who permanently marked arriving prisoners, after it is discovered he speaks several languages. He managed to survive over 2 1/2 years in Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps while risking his own life to exchange jewels from murdered Jews for food to help keep fellow prisoners alive. One day he tattoos the number 34902 on the arm of a frightened girl named Gita. He vows that he will survive and one day marry her. But the Germans don’t care about the hopes and dreams of their prisoners and the odds are against Lale and Gita as they experience and witness unspeakable atrocities. I didn’t think I’d want a ‘heavy’ book for my summer reading, but this one was amazing. The audiobook is read by Richard Armitage and he brilliantly conveys the voices of German, Russian, Slovakian men and women with a complete range of emotions from fear to intimidation to hope.


Just “To Do” It

I am a list maker. I have been for years. I have “To Do” lists for work, home, and travel that have helped keep me organized and sane as I juggle day to day responsibilities. I’ve tried a more creative and visually enticing  bullet journal, but already have sketchnote books and a personal journal that consume a bit of time. I may try it again one day, as I love the look of them, but I didn’t want it to become one more “To Do” on my to do list.

Also, I often create lists when I first wake up in the morning (or even when I wake during the night) and a chicken-scratched-grab-a-pen-without-turning-on-the-light-scribble-list is often the preferred method of writing. So I keep an open notebook and pen on my bedstand to keep the process easy. I need to get thoughts/tasks/shopping lists out of my brain and onto the paper to free up more dream bandwidth.

But I discovered it is kind of fun to look back through old lists that have documented times in my life. It gives me a snapshot into what was going on and what I had for priorities. Rather than ripping out pages and tossing them, I decided to keep those notebooks intact. Gives me a chance to reflect and remember in a way my journal doesn’t. These seemingly unimportant items would never make it into my daily diary and yet they convey aspects of my life that conjure memories as easily as my narratives.

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I am on a mission to expand our definition of writing with teachers and students. Here is yet one more example of authentic writing that probably deserves more respect and recognition.  It can be used for in-the-moment and short term organizing, or a fun way to document our daily lives, or for whatever works for you.

Do you keep lists? I’d love to hear about your process.

WRITING IS WRITING! Let’s celebrate it all.

One More Off My TBR Stack

Screen Shot 2019-06-30 at 9.50.06 AMBORN A CRIME  by Trevor Noah

Continuing my love of audiobooks this summer… Reading the memoir of someone so young, I wondered what lessons I could learn or how I might be enlightened from this narrative. It was eye opening. Living under Apartheid in South Africa was something I’d read briefly in headlines while in college, what I did not know was that being Black and being Coloured were two very different things, and that the system of oppression and discrimination varied depending on someone else’s (often random)interpretation of your color. If you are looking for a bio on how Trevor became a comedy star in America, you’ll probably have to wait for the sequel. This is a fascinating look at his young life overcoming tremendous obstacles even as Apartheid officially ended. Loved the audiobook since it was read by Trevor Noah himself. Check it out!

Curb Your Jealousy

So I’ve taken about two months off from blogging because I really wanted to focus on something important. My son, my youngest, was finishing his senior year in high school and I wanted to minimize my commitments to things outside of our family and his waning days as a senior. At first I felt the tug to keep up with Twitter chats, book groups, blogs, and professional development, but taking time to prioritize helped me realize how short and precious life is and reminded me that taking a pause is not the same as giving up interests and activities. I had the best time watching my boy finish strong and loved being in the moment for each moment.

I also became more aware of how FOMO (fear of missing out) can eat away at the joys  we have right in front of us. Missing out on a great Twitter chat or a retirement party couldn’t compare to watching my boy play baseball or receive academic recognition. I let it go, let myself be fully in the present moment.

Summer is a season where FOMO can run rampant, especially with teachers and their friends. Because we have no flexibility in our time off, our vacation plans are condensed into these few weeks and months. We try to make the most of it with adventures, experiences, and even purchases. Every day I see posts from friends who are sharing the joys they are experiencing, and almost every day I see some response that says, “jealous”.

I know it may seem innocuous to many people, and this post may seem overly “PC” but I encourage us all to pause and seek a more supportive response for our friends and loved ones. Our envy or jealousy does not add to their joy or help lift them up. I know many of these comments are meant as a humorous reply, but then I notice how the encouraging comments such as, “so happy for you” or “love that your family had this adventure together” can better express how much we love and care about our friends and are truly happy for their well-being and joys.

Another consideration to these responses is how they affect us.

  • Are we really jealous? If so, that’s something we can work to address-life is too short to live with the burden of envy. Comparing our lives with others’ crowds out our own feelings of gratitude–an important source of joy. Remember, people aren’t sharing their struggles as much as their happiness. No one’s life is accurately portrayed on social media and many aspects we would not be envious of at all.
  • Are we just kidding? It may come off as passive-aggressive if it diminishes the joy of others. Do we find it humorous when we are on the receiving end of these comments? If we are going for humor, maybe we could put a little more creative effort into our responses.

Teachers often carry around a misguided guilt for having “so much time off” as it is. We hear, “must be nice” so much we often feel the need to rationalize our schedule and explain to others that we aren’t being paid for that time. We shouldn’t have to, but it is a reality.

I don’t want to shame anyone who has responded to others’ social media posts or conversations in this way. I have done it myself without much thought to how it might be received. I know this post may irk a few people who think I’m being overly-sensitive. That’s okay if it helps them think more about how our actions affect others, and ourselves. Our world needs more loving kindness and every small gesture we put out into it can create a ripple that is ever extending. Let’s be happy for one another. Let’s lift each other up. Let’s pause before we post. Let’s embrace an attitude of gratitude!


One More Off My TBR Stack

Screen Shot 2019-06-20 at 10.36.11 AMWHERE THE CRAWDADS SING by Delia Owens

Reading also took a back seat these past two months. I turned to audio books to feed my insatiable need-to-read. I downloaded this book on Audible and it drew me in right from the start! I cannot begin to tell you how much I LOVE this story and the character Kya who was slowly abandoned by each member of her family, starting with her mother, and left to survive in the swamps of North Carolina. She is befriended by Tate, who also lost his mother and he teachers her to read and encourages her passion in biology and botany of the marsh life. But in 1969, the handsome, womanizing, former football hero is found dead and the locals immediately suspect the mysterious “marsh girl”. The story weaves back and forth from Kya’s childhood to the trial that will determine her fate so seamlessly and suspensefully. Delia Owens love of nature paints a lush backdrop to this incredible story of heroic grit and survival. The Audible Audio version narrated by Cassandra Cambell is amazing!

I LOVE Authors! Do You?

This week I was in author heaven as I was able to connect with some of my very favorites in a variety of venues.

On Monday I attended a Booksource Book Tasting in which authors Cynthia Lord and Charlotte Agell shared their latest books and talked a bit about their process.IMG_E0936

On Tuesday two of my schools sponsored an author visit by Matt Tavares and I got to watch him put on 4 amazing presentations for groups of students from preK to 6th grade. He shared how he comes up with his ideas, how he researches his subjects/topics, and the countless revisions in his writing and drawing that lead him to his masterpieces. IMG_0993

On Wednesday I asked author Dusti Bowling to Skype with a group of 4th grade girls who were part of a lunch bunch reading club and were having their last get together for Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus.IMG_1057

Today I Skyped with author Sarah Aronson in preparation for a surprise Skype visit on IMG_E1077Monday with some 2nd graders. I’ll be reading her new book Just Like Rube Goldberg as part of a Readathon launch at one of my schools. As part of that Readathon I am also keynoting to students on the topic I LOVE AUTHORS.  I want them to realize and appreciate that every book they read and love was created by someone with an idea and the determination to work hard until it became a book.

I’ll be passing out these bookmarks to kids and discussing how we can show our appreciation. As an adult I can post an Amazon review, a Facebook share, or a Goodreads entry. But students often don’t have a social media presence or global contacts so their influence is much more local and intimate. I listed some ideas to get them started, but I want them to think of even more.

I love using mentor texts, but it is just as important  for students to have real mentors! Helping to bring authors into their lives in person, via Skype, or by visiting their websites can show readers that ‘wizard behind the curtain’ and help them to appreciate those words, those illustrations, and those books even more. It can also help them to aspire to be published writers themselves when they humanize their concept of author.

So thank you to all the authors who have helped me share the love of reading, the passion for books, and the desire to write with students over the years. You’ll never know how much of an impact you’ve made on their lives–and mine!

One More Off My TBR Stack

Get yourself a copy of this book and you’ll see why I think Cynthia Lord is one of the most talented middle grade writers out there today. She takes seeds from her real life and creates stories that shine a light on the human experience, especially for those who aren’t normally in the spotlight. Emma wants to go to “real school” (she’s been homeschooled). She’s lonely now that her older brother is going to highschool and doesn’t have as much time for her anymore. On the eve of the first day she and her game warden father rescue a stray rabbit. She convinces her parents to let her keep “Lapi” until they can find the owner-if ever. Starting school at 5th grade in rural north west Maine, she finds friendships and cliques have already been established but she strikes up a friendship with Jack, who does not seem to fit in. As the story unfolds, Emma learns what real friendship is about “you have to BE the friend you want to have”. As always, Cindy’s stories have so many layers that can connect with a variety of readers: loving care for pets and strays, feeling excluding and wanting to fit in, nurturing empathy for people who seem different from ourselves, and always in the context of a super satisfying story! As a bonus in this one, you’ll learn facts about lagomorphs and it is set in the amazing state of MAINE! Do your students a favor and get a copy of this in your classroom library ASAP! I don’t think it will stay on the shelves.



#SOL19 Day 31 Thank You, Slicers

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We did it! The last day of the Slice of Life Challenge is here. I know many will feel a sense of relief coupled with a twinge of sadness. We’ve made a lot of connections, shared a lot of heartfelt stories, were buoyed by the words of others, and lived an intensely writerly life for the month of March. Some of us have gone from winter to spring (have faith my Mainer friends) and have had life changing experiences in a short period of time.

My last quick write SPARK is an homage to my fellow slicers and a thank you for your generous slices.

Here’s my quick write:Day 31 slice

I hope that we can stay connected. I’ve followed several blogs, several bloggers on Twitter, and made friends with some of you on the TeachWrite Facebook group. This isn’t goodbye, it’s just good luck until we “meet” again! Please stay in touch-you all ROCK!

#SOL19 Day 30 Spark! “Poem-ish”

Screen Shot 2019-03-02 at 5.28.56 PMFor the month of March I have been participating in the Slice of Life Challenge sponsored by The Two Writing Teachers Blog. Each day I shared a Quick Write as my way of slicing. The idea is to offer a SPARK that will kindle thinking and then write as quickly as you can for 5-10 minutes. No filters, no revisions. I hope you’ve found some that have sparked your joy of writing this month!

With National Poetry month on our doorstep I think its a great time to collect some ideas for playful engagement with poetry. I love to revisit Billy Collins poem “Introduction to Poetry” to ground my teaching in the purpose for poetry-to illuminate dark thoughts, to play with the richness of our language, to whittle a narrative down to the essence of thought, feeling, and senses, and to explore the human experience. Here’s an interesting video interpretation of his classic poem.

Poem-ish Sparks!

I’ve been inspired by so many slicers this month who have shared poems and poetry ideas. (I list some of their offerings at the end of this post) I often use the term poem-ish to describe what I quick write, not because it isn’t in some authentic way a poem, but because it hasn’t yet been read with a careful ear and revised with the respectful revision I think it one day deserves. It remains in a poem-ish state, sometimes temporarily, sometimes permanently. And that’s ok.

One form I have seen a lot this month has been the “skinny poem”.  I love this because I can consume a poem at a glance and savor it in one bite. I think it is less intimidating for kids to try out, and it works well as a quick write! Here’s my skinny poem quick write about the sunset I soaked up from my back deck last night.

sunset in the field

Gilded light

Thanks to everyone who shared resources this month. If you have some collections or caches of poetry ideas you have shared that I missed or that you would like to share, please let me know in the comments section. I am so grateful this writing community! Here are a few:

Made with Padlet

2019 Notable Poetry Books

Kidlitosphere Central Poetry Friday Round Ups


#SOL19 Day 29 Spark: That’s News To Me!

For the month of March I will be participating in the Slice of Life Screen Shot 2019-03-02 at 5.28.56 PMChallenge sponsored by The Two Writing Teachers Blog. Each day I will be sharing a Quick Write as my way of slicing. The idea is to offer a SPARK that will kindle thinking and then write as quickly as you can for 5-10 minutes. No filters, no revisions. I’ve been curating a collection of Sparks and will share some with you all month. It’s a great way to ignite your writing life.

That’s News To Me Quick Write.

We are living in a world of BREAKING NEWS, which can keep us on edge if we are trying to stay abreast of it and keep the incoming information in some context or perspective. It almost always beckons us to respond in some way. Similar to quick write responses to print news headlines or magazine articles, we can also encourage our students to respond to news clips of current events or primary source videos. These are sometimes controversial, so always be mindful of your purpose, audience, and information sources to make sure they are appropriate for your students and that you are aware of potential bias and reliability issues. (unless your purpose is to raise awareness of these issues with older students and you want to expose them to these sources).

I recently saw some news clips from the Clinton impeachment hearings and on the eve of the invasion of Iraq wish I had some journal entry or writing that reflected and documented my thinking as news was breaking back then. Never too late to start!

Here’s my 3 minute quick write in response to this C-SPAN clip from yesterday’s news cycle.


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Quick writes can help us respond in a visceral and unfiltered way to news and events. We can revisit our responses and see how our thinking can change with time, new facts, or events coming to light. We can see how our first reaction may be quick to judge or born out by more facts. We may learn that sharing our first responses in the privacy of a notebook,  rather than social media may be a better reflective or cathartic practice.

Sure we can pen more thoughtful opinion pieces but that serves a different purpose-to persuade others rather than to explore our own reactions, opinions, and values. This doesn’t replace that form of writing. Writers shouldn’t be compelled to share and if they do, it is important that others are open and accepting of responses.

In a world of constant breaking news, it might be good if our students had a safe and nurturing place to explore their thinking. Our classrooms could be that safe place.

#SOL19 Day 28 Spark! Title Tales

For the month of March I will be participating in the Slice of Life Screen Shot 2019-03-02 at 5.28.56 PMChallenge sponsored by The Two Writing Teachers Blog. Each day I will be sharing a Quick Write as my way of slicing. The idea is to offer a SPARK that will kindle thinking and then write as quickly as you can for 5-10 minutes. No filters, no revisions. I’ve been curating a collection of Sparks and will share some with you all month. It’s a great way to ignite your writing life.

A title gives the reader a clue to the content and genre of a story and can often set the tone. Titles help the reader predict what the story may be about and are often labored over by authors and editors. We can help students appreciate the importance of a good title when we try some quick writes focusing on envisioning possible stories derived from them.

I’ve collected the titles from some middle grade novels to use as sparks. You can check those out HERE, and then begin to build your own collection of titles that could spark the imaginations of your writers. They may be familiar or rather obscure to you students, I don’t worry if they write from a title they know and spin off from the story or even retell some of a story based on the title. They are still thinking about the role of a title and how it can aid in comprehension and appreciation of a story.

Here’s my quick write. Can you tell which title inspired this 3 minutes of flash fiction? It’s one of the titles in this collection. Read it first and then check it out.

Title Tale


Could you guess before looking what the title might be? How about after? It could be fun to let students choose from a list and then invite others to guess. It could also be amusing to give everyone the same title and see how many different versions they come up with. Were they humorous? Adventurous? Suspenseful? You’ll begin to appreciate titles in a whole new way if you collect and quick write to them.


#SOL19 Day 28 Spark! Riding the Wave

For the month of March I will be participating in the Slice of Life Screen Shot 2019-03-02 at 5.28.56 PMChallenge sponsored by The Two Writing Teachers Blog. Each day I will be sharing a Quick Write as my way of slicing. The idea is to offer a SPARK that will kindle thinking and then write as quickly as you can for 5-10 minutes. No filters, no revisions. I’ve been curating a collection of Sparks and will share some with you all month. It’s a great way to ignite your writing life.

This quick write idea comes from my dear friend, Linda Rief. Linda is one of the most amazing teachers and authors I’ve ever had the privilege to know, and I am constantly inspired by her. Her latest book The Quickwrite Handbook contains 100 mentor texts that invite students to ride the waves of someone else’s words to find their own. She encourages her middle school students to write for 2-3 minutes, capturing anything that comes to mind. I highly recommend this book to every writing teacher. You’ll love it!

In honor of Robert Frost’s birthday (March 26, 1874)  I thought I’d ride the wave of words from one of his most famous poems.  Here’s my 3 minute quick write:

Yet knowing...

Road Not Taken










I knew which words I wanted to lift and lean on, and how I’d start my idea, but it was fascinating to see which words raced ahead of my pen in my mind and then made it to the paper. Images, memories, emotions all came flooding over me, just by leaning in and leaning on a few words of Robert Frost’s. I stopped after 3 minutes, knowing right where I can pick up and go if I choose to return to this piece.  (Yet knowing how way leads onto way, I doubted if I should ever come back”!)

Try a line from a poem or a page from the book you are reading. Lift a tiny  bit onto your paper and ride the wave! It will be magical!



#SOL19 Day 26 Spark! Jargonese

For the month of March I will be participating in the Slice of Life Screen Shot 2019-03-02 at 5.28.56 PMChallenge sponsored by The Two Writing Teachers Blog. Each day I will be sharing a Quick Write as my way of slicing. The idea is to offer a SPARK that will kindle thinking and then write as quickly as you can for 5-10 minutes. No filters, no revisions. I’ve been curating a collection of Sparks and will share some with you all month. It’s a great way to ignite your writing life.

Jargonese Spark!

As educators, we often forget we speak fluent Jargonese. We throw around acronyms like candy at a parade and can often forget that novice teachers, parents, or community members might be confused by or left out of the conversations that are punctuated by letter strings.  Just this last week I heard:

RTI            IEP          NBPT         PBIS         F&P         MEA     ADD    ADHD

Not only do we speak in these abbreviated terms, but we often don’t stop and think what they might mean to someone who doesn’t live them everyday until we are sitting across from a parent at an Individualized Education Program meeting or a parent/teacher conference and we are met with glassy-eyed stares.

So here’s a quick write that could be “FUN” at staff meetings or PD (that’s professional development, you know). Pop an acronym up on the board and give yourself (and other teachers) 5 minutes to quick write a parent-friendly definition/explanation that does not include any Jargonese. Imagine you are having a conversation. What would you say?

Then share some of your responses. How similar or different are the quick writes? How easy is it to put complex ideas into kid-friendly, parent-friendly, or community-friendly language? What are you thinking about?

Here’s my quick write. (don’t judge!)


RTI stands for Response to Intervention. We are always looking for ways to support learning and when we find that our regular classroom instruction is not meeting a student’s needs in order to make solid progress, we often look for ways to help-we call this an  INTERVENTION. So we may reteach, give individual support, provide more modeling, give extra practice, or break down a task into smaller skills. Then we observe how the student does (or RESPONDS to that INTERVENTION). We try to assess if that intervention was helpful, or see if we need to try something else. We usually give it a few weeks to look for growth. We sometimes ask others to help us brainstorm ideas and problem-solve issues so that we are giving your child the best support.

Ok, that was 5 minutes and I found myself having to choose alternatives for “one-on-one”  and “adequate” and even wondered if the words “task” and “modeling” might have been obscure for some parents.

Even if you don’t do this with others, it might be helpful to quick write what you might say in a conversation with parents, kids, school boards, or community members BEFORE you are trying to define and explain these jargony concepts. It’s not as easy as you might think, especially when emotions are running high with concerned or stressed parents.You’ll be glad you did!