Tag Archives: Jacqueline Woodson

How Can We Increase Our Touches With Writing?

This week was the book birthday of my second professional text with Stenhouse IMG_1514-1Publishers SPARK! Quick Writes to Kindle Hearts and Minds in Elementary Classrooms. I felt a great deal of joy on this occasion, but I also experience what many authors have shared-a bit of trepidation. When you have put everything you have into your “baby”, you want the world to welcome it and love it as much as you do. I can tell you that my admiration for all writers and authors has increased exponentially as I appreciate the courage it takes to put a piece of you out into the world and let it go.

I created SPARK! because I know that the only way we get better at something is with practice, I could see that with my own kids in dance and soccer, as well as any task they excelled in. But with our tight teaching schedules many kids aren’t getting nearly enough writing practice as they need.

My son Casey’s soccer coach gave his team some great advice, “If you want to up your game you need to increase your touches with the ball, every-single-day.” That meant time and touches outside of practice. Casey found dozens of small moments each day to increase his touches and practice his footwork and ball drills-usually in our living room! It made all the difference for him as a player.

I want to increase the touches our kids have with writing each day-outside of the regular practice of writing workshop. Short bursts of practice throughout the day that can increase their skill and confidence. But I also wanted those touches to move beyond the same drill and skill and kindle creativity, engagement, and enjoyment.

I curated a collection of “SPARKS” or prompts to “Kindle the Hearts and Minds” of our students because I wanted them to grow as writers, but also as humans through their writing. The obvious benefit is that builds up the volume of writing. We’re building in opportunities for fluent practice and because they are low stakes (not graded or assessed) they encourage more creativity and risk-taking. Maybe less obvious, but also important, are how they can be used to develop off-page skills. We aren’t just raising readers and writers who are college and career ready, we are raising human beings who need to be life-ready These quick writes encourage critical thinking, creativity, communication, mindfulness, appreciation and a host of other social emotional skills in  addition to writing skills. I’ve set up each chapter with a different focus so teachers can choose from a variety of beneficial sparks.

And the beauty is that it doesn’t require much of our most precious commodity–TIME. Most of us can find 5-10 minutes in our busy schedules, why not use it to increase those touches our kids have with paper and pencil, or even keyboards, to spark wonder and curiosity, explore their thinking, increase their appreciation and compassion, or play with ideas. I believe with a short investment of time we can yield some terrific results with our students’ learning and lives.

I’ll try to share a SPARK! with each blog post this year to encourage you to give them a go, or you can preview the whole book here for free at the Stenhouse Website.

screen shot 2019-01-27 at 9.45.11 am

Shared Spark! One way we can use quick writes is to help our students reframe their thinking. I offer some quotes as sparks for students to respond to that give them an opportunity to reflect and possibly reframe their thinking to embrace a more positive outlook or mindset. Try one of these:

  • “Folks are usually about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”-Abe Lincoln
  • “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”-Wayne Gretsky
  • “What doesn’t challenge you, doesn’t change you.”

Students are free to respond in any way they choose for about 5 minutes. I often take the next 5 minutes to let them share their thinking and appreciate the diversity of responses. Let me know if you give it a go!

One More Off My TBR Stack!

Harbor Me

HARBOR ME by Jacqueline Woodson

Jacqueline Woodson has an uncanny ability to create incredible stories that speak directly to her readers’ hearts and to tap into the raging currents of our time. I can no longer read one of her books without hearing her voice- layered with passion and lyricism. In this story six 5th grade students in Brooklyn are sent to the art room alone each Friday- just to talk- by their very wise and trusting teacher. It becomes the ARTT (A Room to Talk) room and gradually each shares their hopes, fears, and experiences in such a way that you do not pity them, but want to embrace them. As Ms. Laverne shares, “Every day we should ask ourselves, ‘If the worst thing in the world happened, would I protect someone else? Would I let myself be a harbor for someone who needs it?” The response of these students in word and deed is a resounding, “I WILL HARBOR YOU.


Should We Replace Reading Logs?

Before you can answer that question, you have to ask yourself another question…what is the purpose for reading logs?  I asked this of the teachers in my district and got responses like these:

  • “To hold kids accountable for their reading.”
  • “For students to track their reading throughout the week.”
  • “To encourage children to read at home.”
  • “A way for families to track their at home reading progress. A way for the teacher to see this progress.”

But then I also got comments like:

  • “I don’t use them anymore, as I don’t that they accurately reflect student reading!”
  • ” I turned out to be more work for me and little return for the students in terms of reading achievement so I am not doing them this year.”

So I think questions we need to ask ourselves might include:

  • Are you finding as a teacher YOU are doing more work with reading logs than your students?
  • Are your students doing more tracking, responding, and ‘accountability’/documenting than they are actually reading?
  • “What is my purpose? Do logs meet that purpose?”

Let’s consider why we might want to track reading.  To do this, I reflect on why real life readers might want to do this.  I certainly don’t track the number of pages read for each book, but I like to keep a history of what I have read.  I like to look at my choices and reflect on them from time to time.  I like to get recommendations based on what I have previously enjoyed. I like to be able to share titles with others and see who has similar interests.

Let’s think about how real life readers do this. Well, I keep a running list of books I’ve read in the back of my journal, I am an avid Goodreads member, I post albums of books to Facebook, I tweet out titles during chats, I share photos on Instagram, I give book talks to teachers and students.  This tracking is a social connection as well as personal recollection.

If your purpose is that students will read more, read widely, share their reading lives, and enjoy reading enough to make it a habit, then let your choices for tracking their reading meet that purpose!  Here are a few ideas you could test out.


screen-shot-2016-10-01-at-8-35-07-amGOOGLE SLIDES   Kids can keep an ongoing ‘slide show’ of books that they have read during the year. Each slide could contain an image of the book jacket, a review or summary, a rating (1-5 stars) a link to a book trailer or author information. They can be as creative as they’d like.  The presentation could be shared with parents at conferences, to the class for inspiration, or printed out as documentation of reading.


screen-shot-2016-10-01-at-8-31-49-amBIBLIONASIUM   The Goodreads for kids! They get their very own virtual bookshelf, where they can keep track of what they’ve read, and what they want to read and can sort them by date, title, or author. The site suggests recommendations based on selections, creates challenges,  They can share book recommendations with friends and  can get your friends to suggest books you’ll like.  It’s FREE, and it is a safe.



PADLET  A virtual bulletin board/wall of the books you have read can be created with Padlet.  Students can track their books with links and see what others are reading. You could create a padlet for your read aloud where students could post comments or responses to questions. There are many great uses for Padlet in the classroom you can see if you click HERE or HERE.



SYMBALOO is a free cloud-based bookmarking service. Students could create a page of books they have read, and link them to the author’s webpage, a book trailer or a review so that if others click on the image they can get instant information about the book. You can check out other uses for Symbaloo in the classroom HERE.

Here are a few “non-techie” options to help document a reader’s history for the year.


ILLUSTRATED BOOK SHELVES  –  kids draw book spines that look like the original to help others “spot” these books.  Create different pages for “MUST READS”/”SO-SO”/”NO-GO” Or by genre, month, whatever! Be as creative as you’d like. Let kids determine the format, style, and function.


screen-shot-2016-10-01-at-8-51-26-am READER’S NOTEBOOKS If your goal is that students will think deeply or differently about what they read, provide them the space and time to respond to what they have read in meaningful ways. Let them design a Reader’s Notebook that reflects their unique reading identity.  Collect samples and discuss purpose, and then let students make them their own. Sure we could assign questions or formats, but these self-designed notebooks can give us a lot of information about how kids see themselves as readers, how they reflect or don’t,

screen-shot-2016-10-01-at-10-32-46-am‘PHOTO’ ALBUMS – Students use an index card or 4×6 sized paper to recreate the book jacket or create a mini-poster for their book on one side. Flip it over and rate it, review it, summarize it…on the other. They can even write the date they read/finished it. Slip the cards into a $1 4×6 photo album to keep a collection of book memories.


screen-shot-2016-10-01-at-10-46-34-amBOOK BUDDIES -If you want to build a reading community that talks about books and their reading lives, build time in your day for kids to do that.  One idea is that each morning kids meet with a ‘Book Buddy’ (could be same buddy each day for a week or so or rotates) for 5 or 10 minutes to discuss what they read outside of school or the previous day in school. Readers could mark places in the book or jot ideas they’d like to share. Some suggested sentence stems:

  • A summary of my reading last night starts with____ (summarizing)
  • Something I think the author did really well was____(attention to craft)
  • Something I learned/thought/recognized about my character was____(character analysis)
  • I think the setting is integral to the story/plot because______ (setting analysis)
  • This book is starting to remind me of____(connection to text, experience, real world)
  • Something we’ve been working on as readers that I tried/noticed _______(transfer)

If we want kids to be life-long readers, perhaps we can share approaches that mirror what true life-long readers do.  We sometimes document what we’ve read, or share via social media, or talk with others about our reading lives/interests/choices. I’d love to hear some other alternatives to a more traditional reading log that have excited your students and created a greater community of readers!

What’s On My Book Radar?


Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson

Jacqueline Woodson has done it again…created a book that will reside in my heart for years to come. We meet August, a young girl who has moved from Tennessee to Brooklyn with her father and brother and becomes ‘sisters’ with three neighborhood girls. As the story unfolds we grow up with August, her brother, and friends and unravel the mystery of her missing mother. If you have ever heard Jackie read her work you will hear this story (which reads more like a poem) with her lyrical voice and passioned prosody in your head. Considered her first adult novel, I think it fits with YA as well. (Some of the topics are more appropriate for older readers.)


IMG_7965Once again this summer I am taking on the “Book-a-day” Challenge.  I am so excited to have time to read that I sometimes devour a book in one sitting.  There are so many books and so many authors that I want to explore, the book-a-day challenge helps me to do that.

However, on my run this morning I was listening to a Fresh Air podcast.  Terry Gross was interviewing Jacqueline Woodson.  They were discussing Jackie’s difficulty with reading as a child. Terry asked, “So how did you fall in love with reading and writing if it was such an effort?”

I love Jackie’s response: “You know, I read stuff over and over, and it made deep sense. It – I think what happened was the language settled in me much deeper than it settled into people who just can read something once and absorb what they absorb of it. I feel like what I was absorbing was not by any means superficial, and I think I was – from a really young age, I was reading like a writer. I was reading for this deep understanding of the literature; not simply to hear the story but to understand how the author got the story on the page. And I didn’t know any of that. And my sister, you know, just kind of sailed through reading and read – consumed book after book after book. And here I was reading the same book very slowly, slowly coming to understand it. And looking back on it, I think it was part of what brought me here.”

I thought of myself as Jackie’s sister, sailing through book after book.  It was like an epiphany, I want to take some time to read like a writer and understand how the author got the story on the page. I want to read like Jackie! Then I thought, Hey, I can do BOTH!

So now this summer I will continue my Book-a-Day challenge, but I am going to also going to treat myself to a “Page-a-Day” challenge.  It might be a page from a book I am reading, a page from the newspaper, a page of poetry, a page from a book I know I “should” read but never will. I will closely read this page the way Jackie did..very slowly, slowly coming to understand it. I will try to understand how the author got the story on the page.  I will read like a writer.

So I will take some time to savor those words that some author labored over.  An author who played with ideas, revised for clarity, worked hard to make it “just right”.  I want to take some time to notice, to appreciate, to enjoy. I encourage (challenge) you to do the same.

If you are up for the challenge, tweet out your page at #pageaday!

What’s On My Book Radar?

25129897Jo Knowles introduces us to several characters whose lives revolve around a local high school.  The story takes place in a single day, but the complex interactions and intersections of their lives make you feel as though you’ve known them all for a very long time.  People are not always what we perceive them to be, we can find out more if we take time to read between the lines, I’m glad I did.  This book also fits my theme this week of taking the time to slow down and notice.  This YA novel was a quick read, but the characters are still lingering in my mind.