Sunday, September 13, 2015

Celebrate Risk Taking with Dot Day 2015

The Dot is an incredible book by Peter Reynolds with a huge following around the world. The Dot celebrates taking risks, being unique and encouraging others. Students of all ages can relate to this simple story that encourages creativity and grit.

Celebrate Dot Day on September 15, 2015. You can visit the official web page for Dot Day resources or check out my S'more for resources including videos and links.

Monday, September 7, 2015

There Is No Magic Bullet for Writing

Real writing is always on my mind. I feel myself cringe when another "program" is mentioned to solve all the writing woes of our state. I recently emailed Victoria Young (recently retired Director of Reading, Writing, and Social Studies Assessments for TEA) about a particular program and her thoughts about how it helps student writers. I received a response from her on her very last day in the office. I respect what she had to say.

"Districts need to spend their PD money in the wisest possible way (understanding, of course, that there's no magic bullet.)"

Even the person who has led the way in writing assessment for the state of Texas, admits there is no magic bullet.

There is no one program out there that can magically make our students better writers. There are, however, best practices that are researched and proven to create confident writers who actually like writing. These are some that I have seen and experienced first hand.

  1. Write with your students. Teachers who write are BETTER writing teachers. Make it personal. Students love getting to know you through your writing and struggles.
  2. Write A LOT! Students need a lot of practice putting words on a page. Just like, "The more you read, the better reader you become." The more you write, the better writer you become.
  3. Use great mentor texts. Mentor texts provide options for students. Look at the best examples and try it your own way. Sometimes the mentor text is your writing or another student's writing. I use my writing often to model revision and how I've used a mentor to help my writing. Also, visit author web pages and read author's notes in their books. Authors are often happy to share their thoughts about the process of writing and where they find their ideas.
  4. Confer with your students. (NOT correct with your students.) Conferring is having a conversation with your students and understanding them as writers; then helping them go one step further.
  5. Play with genres. Not all pieces of writing are narrative or expository. There are so many possibilities for genres and structures in writing.
  6. Have fun! Writing is something that can benefit everyone--teachers included. Yes, students need college and career readiness but they also need to have a voice and know their ideas matter.

There is no magic bullet. We can buy manuals that help students write a certain genre in 26 lines following a "structure." We can provide a given prewriting organizer or go from a script. OR we can teach our students that writing is a gift. It is a way to communicate our ideas, creativity, and imagination.

there is No Magic Bullet - Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Geeking Out at ILA Part 2- Author Meetup

I've been thinking and reflecting on my learning since returning almost a week ago. I can't wait to share some of the new things I learned with my teachers.

Today, I want to talk about a few authors that I had the chance to see and hear. Out of sheer luck, I ended up with a ticket to Saturday's Author Meetup where I had the opportunity to listen to and ask questions of 6 authors/illustrators in a round-table setting. Just amazing to hear how for so many, it was a teacher calling them and author and valuing their stories that lead to their future career.

Sheila Turnage, author of the Newbery honor book, Three Times Lucky. She spoke to us about her newest book in the series, The Odds of Getting Even. Listening to her talk about her main character, Miss Moses LoBeau, it was almost as if she were real. Mo is real to her and her connection to her character was inspiring. I can't wait to start the series.
C. Alexander London was hilarious to listen to. His crazy energy was contagious. I almost felt like he was acting the overview of his book. He wrote his newest book, The Wild Ones, for his 10-year-old self. (I imagine him as the grown-up version of my 5-year-old son!) 
Kathleen Krull was fascinating to hear. She writes a lot of literary nonfiction including the Women Who Broke the Rules series. She told us, "I prefer to write about dead people." She is always on the lookout for interesting women to research and write about. 

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Geeking Out at ILA Part 1

I am still on a high and giddy from my time at ILA this past weekend! I totally geeked out and soaked up all things literacy. I love when you experience something in education, whether it be a conference, conversation, book, etc. that just gets you fired up and excited about teaching reading and writing.

ILA was just what I needed to feel inspired and pumped up for a new school year. I received so many new ideas and treats to share with my teachers AND I filled my professional bucket. 

First things first, at ILA, we collected a TON of FREE books from vendors. It was a book nerd heaven. As I walked around lugging my 40ish pounds of free books, I decided that I needed to share these with my teachers. We loaded up a suitcase of books, ran to the post office and shipped two boxes of books back. Totally worth my sore shoulders from hauling them back to my hotel room. 

Not only were there lots of books, there were some amazing authors there speaking and doing book signings. Some of my favorites were present and I was able to go to some book signings and hear many of them speak. The one I was most excited to see was the 2015 Caldecott winner- Dan Santat! He is one of my favorite illustrators. My son and I read his graphic novels and picture books together. Hearing about his journey through childhood, where his parents pushed him to be a doctor and wouldn't let him study art, was incredible. Thank goodness he finally followed his heart and became the amazing author and illustrator that he is!

It was his elementary school librarian who encouraged him to pursue art through reading books. She gave him his first "How to Draw Comics" books. Just imagine if she hadn't seen that spark in him at such and early age.

This coming school year, you have the opportunity to spark the love of reading, writing, or illustrating with your students. Play with writing. Play with words and books. Bring back a joy to literacy!

Sunday, July 5, 2015

It's About That Time! TeachersWrite

Happy 4th of July! Or actually, the 5th of July, but who cares. I have lapsed a bit this week and skipped a couple of days of writing. Oops! I did try to make up for it and write for longer on another day.

Tomorrow officially begins TeachersWrite, an online writing camp/group/workshop for teachers to improve their writing and join a community of other teacher writers. So if you are looking for some learning that you can do from home, with no risk, join me on this adventure.
You can also join their group on FaceBook or check out Jen Vincent's blog Teach Mentor Texts to introduce yourself. I'm excited and a little nervous about TeachersWrite, but am ready for a challenge.

Here is a poem I wrote the other day after leaving the pool with my hubby and kids. I tend to be the floating mom, the one who likes to observe and not really play in the pool. My hubby on the other hand is their personal water park.

Mom vs. Dad at the Pool

             Mom                                                        Dad
lays out in the hot sun                                 pretends to be a surfboard
floats and skims the top of the water               acts like a shark about to bite
wears a hat                                           wears a hat
but doesn't want to get it wet                      but will dive under the water anyway
cheers on belly flops and cannonballs             yells at the kids about running
tans easily                                             burns to a crisp
lets the kids float with her                          allows kids to use him as a diving board
visits often                                                  Dad at the pool is a novelty

          Score- 3                                                        Score- 4

                                         Dad Wins!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Easier Than Weight Watchers

I was a habitual Weight Watchers joiner. I new the program inside and out. The problem was, I always quit and couldn't stay consistent. The life-timers would say that logging my points would need to become a habit. They were absolutely right. If I stuck it out long enough, it would become more of a constant in my everyday life.

I've decided that writing is like Weight Watchers for me. I need to be intentional and consistent, just like logging points. Unless I  intentionally write, I will never stick with my goal of being a better writer.

It's strange, I actually am starting to look forward to writing each day. I NEVER thought that I would say that. Kind of like running for me-- I know lots of people who are runners. If you ask them to describe themselves, they would most likely say, "I'm a runner." I admit, I have always wanted to say those words but let's be honest, I HATE running. It isn't fun for me at all. I will never be a runner unless I start small, make a commitment and stick to it (and have a true passion to succeed.)

But, I can be a writer. If you asked me to describe myself, I would say, "I'm a teacher. I'm a reader. I'm a learner." but I would probably not say, "I'm a writer." However, I WILL get there. I will be a writer. I want it to be part of my identity. I'm in it. I've written now for 2 weeks straight. Here's a quick peek inside my notebook.

My brand new notebook that I scored at Home Goods for $1.99. I'm all about being awesome!

These entries were writing in a public place, and 2- word poems I learned from Linda Hoyt.
I made a web about being home in Lubbock and what I want to do in my notebook. 

I wrote some more poems and copied one I liked for inspiration.
This is my reflection after going to the Parade of Homes.

Finally, a list of things I don't love and a poem about sunbathing.

It's a big deal for me to share my writing at all, but I'm here to take a risk. I hope you are challenging yourself as well. 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Summer Challenge 2015: Growing Myself As a Writer

So for a while now, I have told the teachers that I work with, I am a good writing teacher, but not really a good writer. I know how to move through a writing workshop. I know how to figure out what mini-lessons kids need. I know how to confer with students. I know how to teach them to read like writers and believe in their ideas. I even know how to help teachers feel more empowered as teachers of writing.

But, I still don't feel like a writer. Yes, I can write better than the students I work with, but I am insecure and unconfident as a writer.

So, I've decided to change that. I am committing to writing each day this summer and working through a book called 59 Reasons to Write by Kate Messner. You can link to the book by clicking on it and even preview its pages.

Also, I am joining a free online writing camp called TeachersWrite to build myself as a writer.I would love some folks to join in this challenge if even for a short time this summer. I am going to post some of my writings (although it is scary) and share my learning about who I am as a writer.

I've been writing each day for a week now. It seems to be getting easier. Here are some things that I have learned about myself so far...

1. I am nervous to venture into fiction. It isn't easy for me.
2. I seem to prefer to write poetry.
3. Writing each day is easier than I thought it would be.
4. I find that I actually look forward to writing each day. Imagine that!

So here it is. I'm on a mission to be a writer. What kind? I'm not sure yet, but no matter what, I'll be better than when I started.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

What Kind of Readers Do We Want Our Children to Be?

I am a reader. I read all kinds of texts. Fiction, picture books, YA novels, magazines, poetry, blogs, you name it, I probably read it. (Well, maybe not much nonfiction, but I'm working on that.) In a recent professional development I was doing with teachers, I asked them to reflect on what kind of reader they were. Typically, when I ask my teachers to write, I do it as well. I started my own reflection and wish I had had more time to write that day. Coming back to my list, I added to it.

I am a reader who--

  • reads for pleasure.
  • gets totally lost in a book.
  • sees books as a relaxing escape.
  • can tune everything out when I read, including, screaming kids in the backseat.
  • has camped out in a store for a new book release.
  • has stayed up all night reading.
  • reads to her children.
  • visits the public library and encourages others to do so.
  • owns WAY too many picture books.
  • prefers real paper books over digital.
  • sometimes has a book hangover after reading a great book or series.
  • buys professional books to learn more. And more. And more. 
  • wishes she had more time to read. 
  • loves to talk to other readers.
  • believes that reading is a valuable, life-long skill that enhances life.

I am a reader.

When the school year started, my daughter would say that she didn't like to read. Now, mind you, she was a great reader, but she didn't like it. I tried everything-- new books, encouragement, audio books, BRIBES. Even the bribes didn't work. She hadn't found her place as a reader. On the first day of third grade, she entered her class and I visited with her teacher. I told her teacher, "I don't care if she passes STAAR, I want her to love reading!" (STAAR is our standardized test in Texas.) I knew that if she loved reading again, she would pass with flying colors.

So on that first day, her class was talking about reading. My daughter announced that she didn't like to read and there was a collective gasp in the room. Her class of readers were now on a mission to change her mind.

In the past, her school had done AR (Accelerated Reader.) AR motivated many of her friends, but not her.  To earn more points, you had to read thicker chapter books. This program did nothing to motivate her.

In comes the school librarian with a new idea...a Reading Bingo challenge! Students were able to earn spirit sticks by reading a wide range of texts, including many free choice books. They filled in a bingo card that encouraged a wide variety of texts. My daughter was hooked. She wasn't just a reader of thick chapter books, she was a reader of a variety of texts. She now loves graphic novels, poetry, nonfiction, fiction, picture books, AND some chapter books. She was encouraged to just read.

Flash forward to the end of this school year. My daughter--who now asks to go to the library, who reads in the car and who reads to her brother--read OVER 100 books this school year!  Yes, she did pass STAAR with flying colors- scoring advanced in reading. But, more importantly, she LOVES to read!

So I ask you to reflect. How are you encouraging students to be readers? What do you say or do, to show your students that being a reader is amazing? My experiences with my own child this year have helped me reflect on how and what we teach students about reading.

Take a minute and ask yourself--What kind of reader are you?

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Kids are Going Crazy!

Yep, it's that time of year when the kids are going bananas and the teachers are counting down the days. Some of the tightness of earlier in the school year has loosened up and we are thinking either to the summertime or even the next school year.

Here are some ideas for closing out the year with some fun literacy activities. Take this time to take risks and try something new.


Hold a Read-In: Allow students to bring pillows, towels, and their favorite book. It doesn't have to be all day, just an hour or so. Allow time for students to share their favorite book and do a quick review.

Book Trailers: Watch some book trailers. Encourage kids to create a "Books To Read" list. Watching current book trailers can help them with this. Having a list helps students have a plan of action if they visit the local library or bookstore. Some of my favorite resources for book trailers are:
Book Trailers for Kids 
Watch, Connect, Read
Harper Collins
Random House Kids

You could even try your hand at creating your own class book trailers. Vote on your favorite picture book, nonfiction text, poetry book, chapter book, etc. Kids are very opinionated about their choices.

Survey Your Readers:  If you tried out an interest survey at the beginning of the year, a perfect closing could be a reading survey. Possibilities might be...Ask your students about their favorite book you read aloud. What strategies stuck with them? Which book they would recommend you read with your next class? Who was their favorite author or illustrator? How did you grow as a reader this year?

Get Artsy: Create book poster, new book covers or bookmarks for their favorite book.


Survey Your Writers: Much the same as above but take the time to reflect on the year of writing. What was your favorite piece of writing? Why? Which author studied, helped you as a writer the most? What strategy do you remember most? What do you want to write next?

Collaborative Writing: Allow kids to write together. They could create comics, picture books, drama scripts, poetry, persuasive letters or informational books. Let them have fun. The end of the year should culminate all the learning from your writing workshop.

Author's Celebration: Most schools have some sort of awards ceremony. Why not add on an author's celebration while parents are present. Allow students to share the writing they have done with their parents. Allow students to write an "About the Author" sign to set with their writing. Students need an audience, and what better way to share. Another take on this would be to set out student writing and let other writers in the class write celebrations or suggestions. Feedback from other writers is valuable.

Go on a Word Hunt: Take clipboards or student notebooks outside or around the school to hunt for new words. You could even do this in the library with students finding great words and recording them. Then, ask students to use several of their new words in a piece of writing. You could extend further and ask students to sort the words by parts of speech.

 All these ideas take little planning but allow for BIG engagement. Have fun with all your hard work and celebrate your readers and writers!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Poetry, Poetry, Poetry!

Happy National Poetry Month!

This is by far my favorite month of the year. If you are one of those people who aren't quite sure how you feel about poetry, commit to have an open mind. There is a poem for everyone!

  • Poetry breaks all the rules.
  • There are no "right" answers in poetry. Everyone can see the same poem in a different way. 
  • Poetry can be funny, serious, or lyrical.
  • Poetry begs to be read aloud (and then read AGAIN and AGAIN.)
  • Struggling readers and writers tend to feel successful in poetry. 
  • There are many types and forms of poetry, anyone can write a poem!

You may be looking for some inspiration for National Poetry Month. I will be sharing my favorite poetry books, links to great poetry ideas, and visuals of student poetry. Go forth to read and write poetry!

16 Resources for National Poetry Month