Hena Khan

On Saturday, a friend who loves children’s literature as much as I do, invited me to an Author Event. Hena Khan, sponsored by the neighboring town’s independent bookstore (Thanks Bards Alley), was promoting her newest book. More to the Story She called it is her “love story” to the classic book, Little Women. Why? Because growing up, she loved to write. And growing up, she never saw herself, an American Muslim, in books. Yet, growing up, she read and reread Little Women. Those four sisters taught her about friendship and loyalty and family and though the book was published 150 years ago, it helped her as she grew up. And now, she used that familar story as her inspiration for writing this new book.

More to the Story is a modern-day story about an American Muslim family living in Georgia. The one daughter, Jam, loves to write and and uses this talent by writng for the school’s newspaper. As Hena booktalked this book and read-aloud from it on Saturday to an audience of many Muslim families, I left excited to have this new book to share with my students. Plus, I help run my school’s newspaper so I’m excited to read it to see how the book’s school newspaper is run.

During the Q & A, I asked Hena to share about her writing process. I always like to know more about the nuts and bolts of an author’s life. I so appreciated Hena’s honesty.
* She does have an office in her house. However, she does NOT only write in one place. She tends to move throughout her house writing.
* She said she does NOT always write daily.
* She does writes only using her laptop. She does saves all her versions as she revises.
* She does use an outline as her guide.
* She HATES the 1st draft.

After my questions, another women asked her if she avoids any issues as she write. Hena stated she tried to writes fun Muslim stories for kids. However, she won’t avoid topics. She asked this women if she had an issue in mind. The response – colorism in the South-Asian community. I naively will admit, I went home and read up on this topic. As a white mid-aged women, I really had no idea this is an issue: Discrimination based on skin color, also known as colorism or shadeism, is a form of prejudice or discrimination usually from members of the same race in which people are treated differently based on the social implications from cultural meanings attached to skin color.

I’m glad I spent the day learning from a cool Muslim-American author. I’m glad I have a new book to read to help me understand a modern Muslim family. I’m glad I keep learning each day.

New Heights

My district held the Ribbon-cutting Opening of their brand new urban Secondary school on Saturday and I attended. This school houses the H-B Woodlawn 6th-12th grade program and the newly named Eunice Kennedy Shriver Program for students in APS who have special needs and is named The Heights.

I attended because architecture interests me and I wanted to see first hand what I had only seen in drawings on the county website. It was fun to walk through and especially walk around ont he outdoor terrances and take in the views of Roslyn and pier across into D.C.!

Unexpectedly, I learned about Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who the special education program is named. Her son, Dr. Timothy Shriver eloquantly spoke. he commented how his mother’s biggest fears were injustice, division, loneliness and hopelessness. How she believed everyone had gifts and how she worked tirelessly for an “inclusion revolution”. In 1962, his mother welcomed kids with disablilties to her home, a “camp”! This camp became the Special Olympics movement and because of her work, we have more equality, unity, play and faith in our world. He reminded us that “we are more powerful than our fears.” He reminded us that with this school bearing his mother’s name, we are changing the status quo. “It is good to be together.”

I left feeling proud of my school system. I’m proud we offer a program for our neediest kids. I’m proud that their school is named after such an amazing American. Click HERE to learn more about Eunice Kennedy Shriver.

A “Kate DiCamillo” Saturday

I’ve attended Kate DiCamillo events before and wrote about them HERE (2015, Mercy Watson’s 10th Birthday) and HERE (when Kate won the Newbery for Flora and Ulysses) and HERE (2013 TCRWP Reunion Sat. Keynote).

Today I heard her speak while on book tour for her newest book, Beverly, Right Here.  The event was in a church down the street from my favorite independent bookstore, Politics and Prose. The afternoon sun shined onto the stained-glass windows adding a colorful hue to the pews as families and teachers filled them. She gave a speech, reading through her bright red glasses and then walked up and down the aisle with a microphone, asking and answering audience questions. She ended with a book signing.

Things I learned:
* She emphaisezed why read stories. It’s so important because stories show you it IS possible. It IS possible to choose to be what you want to be. Stories tell us that dragons CAN be defeated. Stories tells us we CAN act, we CAN change, we CAN become. Beverly, the main character of her latest book, a run-away, chooses to be a new person. The reader, through her story, understands it IS possible.

*Kate writes 2 pages EVERY day, no matter what. EVERY DAY. a writer needs to show up and do it. (Happy to be showing up today, a Tuesday, posting to the TwoWritingTeachers blog!)

*While writing, Kate listens to the music of Marten Lauridsen.

* Kate’s ideas come from being observant, eavesdropping, taking notes in the notebook which she always has with her. “Plane rides are the best for eavesdropping!”

*A favorite quote of Kate’s by Flannery O’Connor : “The writer should never be ashamed of staring. There is nothing that does not require his attention”.

* Kate’s advise for writers: Read LOTS, Observe LOTS, Find a way to write daily, and BE RELENTLESS (don’t let people decide for you. GET your OWN way.)

Thank you, Kate, for inspiring me as a Reading Teacher and as a blog writer.

Thank you also for Beverly’s story. I read it in one sitting after the event and had so many ideas in my head, I made a reading notebook page to help me process some of it. #AuthorsAreRockStars

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My Teachers

I spent from 7am to 6pm yesterday moving into my new school. Not sure why I have some much to move in and unpack ….actually, I do know why. I teach Reading 6 and therefore have tons of books!! It is also my 28th year as a teacher so I have almost 3 decades of collecting my favorite picture books and novels to share with my students. Plus, the pencils, notebooks, post-it notes, glue sticks, bulletin board boarders, anchor chart paper, whiteboard markers. Lucky for me, I’m in a much bigger classroom with lots of storage. Now, ALL 20+ boxes are emptied and the books and materials have a shelf to call home.

Today, I made these four signs to hang in the back of my room:


They will join these speech-bubble faces I’ve made over the years:

Ellin Keene  – We talk to understand

Lucy Calkins: Writing changes the world

Carl Anderson – How’s it going?

Cornelius Minor – Be a producer, not a consumer of tech

Kathleen Tolan – Build a Reading Life

Jen Serravallo – Teach students how to read at each level

Kelly Boland – Students set and meet goals using the learning progressions

As I teach, these amazing educators will “watch” me and nudge me to be the best teacher I can for my students.

Whose shoulders are YOU standing on this year?

Whose photo would YOU add to your classroom wall as a reminder?

Revisiting my OLW – Confident

As the 2019-2020 school year begins, I took time today to reread my OLW reflectioin HERE. It’s August now. As I look back to January, I find myself being pushed by this word.

“You can do this. Just be confident,” I repeated as I pressed SEND to submit my renewal documents for National Boards.

“You can do this. Just be confident,” I moaned while peering up at the 10-story high stone Mayan ruin in front of me begging to be climbed while on vacation.

“You can do this. Just be confident,” I decided as I began using the Noom app (and smile today, 12 weeks later and 12 pounds down. But more importantly, understanding my triggers better.)

“You can do this. Just be confident,” I point out as I shopped for the ingredients for the healthy recipes I chose to create for my dinner guests.

“You can do this. Just be confident,” I whispered under my breathe as I prepared to lead Professional Development on Reading and Writing Workshop for my district’s principals and reading teachers.

“You can do this. Just be confident.” I know I will repeat these seven words to myself throughout September. I am on staff at Dorothy Hamm Middle School, the brand new Middle School in my district. So many unknowns ahead. Yet, we have Dorothy as our model. She spoke up to end the practice of segregation in her neighborhood school in 1959. I’ll be working, 60 years later, on the site of the first school in the whole state of Virginia to be integrated, walking the same halls as her child did with confidence.


My OLW – confident – is serving me well this year.
How’s it going with you?

Mayan Ruins

After purchasing our entrance tickets, I headed down the path. The thick jungle vegetation on each side of the path helped me to understand how archeologist only recently uncovered this ancient civilization. Now uncovered, I enjoyed my adventurous day at El Balam, located on the Yucatan Pennisula of Mexico.

First, I climbed the pyramid successfully. I followed Brian’s tip to diagonially walk up the steep incline. Perfect tip! I happily reached the top, turned to take in the view and immediately signed. Why? Because staight-ahead was another pyrimid. But this one was at least twice as tall. Here I thought I had accomplished the hardest climbing feat of the day only to discover that this climb was just a warm-up.

Determined, I followed Brian up the larger ruin. Step right, step right, step right. Then step left, step left step left. I kept my eyes down, watching my feet and avoided looking straight up, worried that doing so would cause me to panic and instead just stop and sit down. Finally, after many diagonal turns and many, many steps, I was at the top! To prove it, we asked a fellow climber to snap our photo despite our sweatiness.

Later in the day, I read more about Ek Balam. It’s name means “Black Jaguar”, hence all artisans selling jaguar wooden carvings. The climb = 96ft or 8 stories high. The town dates back to 600BC and it’s civilization thrived from 770 AD-900 AD and was last used in 1600AD…just 7 years before Jamestown was founded in my state of Virginia.

Walking around an ancient city is interesting. So much to wonder. So much to imagine. I wonder who lived there. I wonder about their jobs. I wonder what the women did and how they were treated. I wonder about the kids and if they went to school. I wonder what they eat. I wonder what they hunted. (I guess janguars!) I wonder if they took time for a vacation.

I do know that they most likely cooled off in the nearby Xcanche cenote just as I did after my walking tour. A perfect way to cool off after a hot day of exploring.



Summertime, Writingtime!

I love summertime….this summer, I have time to write.

Yesterday, a teacher hosted another teacher and me. She had just returned from attending the Heinemann Boothbay Literacy Institute (on my bucketlist) and offered to simulate some of what she did with us.

First, we did 2 Quickwrites using Linda Rief’s book, The Quickwrite Handbook. Here is what I wrote in 2 minutes after listening to my friend read Getting It Right by Kevin Carey (You can hear Garrison Keiller hear it hear on Dec. 14, 2016’s The Writer’s Almanac).

I used the prompt, “Borrow any line, letting the line lead your thinking as you write.”

I was never the smartest kid in the room. I was more the B+ student, dutifully compliant but not a natural. Grace was a natural. She read aloud with such expression when it was her turn during Round-Robin Reading. David was a natural. His science fair projects were so smart. Both had smart parents, assisting. I had loving parents but parents who did school just as well as I did. Now I am paid to read-aloud to students. I am quite good at it. As a teacher, I notice the Graces and the Davids and mostly the Sallys.

I’ll admit, that I had Linda’s book and skimmed it but hadn’t tried any of the exercises. However, with my friend’s guidance, I now see the power of reading another’s writing and then letting my pencil quickly write off of it. 

Then my friend showed us the Watercolors she made at Boothbay. She had paint sets and cups of water and 4×6 watercolor paper and black thin sharpies and some shells. And for the next hour, we painted! First, shells. Then copied an image from my phone of flowers.

So lucky to have a friend who values turn-around PD!
So lucky to have time to write in the summer!

Have you ever tried Quickwrites? Do you ever watercolor?
I now recommend both!


Keep Cup

My Writing Club (two lovely writers who participate in the March Writing Challenge as PencilOnMyBackPorch and WordJourneys) met last Wednesday and one brought along Georgia Heard’s book Writing Toward Home.

We descided to all try this exercise: Pick one word. A noun. Something concrete. Write two pages with this word in mind. Afterwards, in the margin, write the links to this word.

I picked the object that I now carry with me – my Keep Cup . Here’s where the prompt took me….

For Mother’s day, my girls had my present delivered to me. They must have been conversing across the miles and I recall Anne sending me a text a week prior asking about my favorie color. I recall my reply was “green, blue and purple but I guess blue if I can only pick one.”

As I opened the small package, I found a glass cup the size of a Starbuck’s grande drink inside and a blue plastic removable lid. I immediaely sent the girls a thank you text. Anne’s reply was, “Use it at Starbucks and be sure to ask for the reuseable-cup discount.” This made me smile as I held this small but thoughtful present called a Keep Cup. The girls know me and my routine well.

Now, I routinely carry my Keep Cup with me when I head to Starbucks in the morning. “Grande black iced tea, no sweetener,” I announce and $2.95 appears on the register. Then the minuse ten cents (-.10) appears. I smile and think how the girls’ gift is the gift that keeps on saving!

Last week and over a month since Mother’s Day, I drove and parked at my neighborhood Starbucks and realized I forgot the Keep Cup. Not wanting to return to my old habit, I actually drove back home to retrieve my Keep Cup. Each Starbuck’s purchase is one less plastic cup and one less straw added to a landfill. One small, very small gesture to reduce by reusing.

(My writing began to wander to the girls’ gift to their dad for Father’s Day…a comparision but after a paragraph, it seemed off-topic so I stopped and wrote this next…)

Reduce. Recycle. Reuse. Gestures needed for my planet. My girls are conscious of the need for such gestures. I wonder if it is doing anything at all. I am reminded of the story of the hummingbird (which PencilOnMyBackPorch shared with me last Earth Day – view video here). The hummingbird, though so small, tries to put out the fire. Action. Thanks to my girls, I’ve made it a habit to routine;y use my Keep Cup. Action.

After 2 pages, I write these links in the margin: gift, new routine, gift is saving me $, different dad gift – off topic, being sustainable

NOTE: I enjoyed this exercise. I see now that this writing could be a seed for many more stories. I really enjoyed doing this exercise in the company of my writing club. While I wrote about my Keep Cup, one picked the noun, fireplace and the other picked the noun bra. So fun to listen to their ponderings related to their chosen noun!

Do you ever “prompt write”? Maybe something to try.
Now I’m heading to Starbucks with my Keep Cup!!


My Teaching by the numbers

It’s the last day of another school year.

I counted it up and I have taught…
…for a total of 28 years.
…Middle School for 2 years.
…Elementary School for 26 years.
…at 9 schools.
…in 4 districts.
…Pre-K for 1 year.
…Kindergarten for 6 years.
…3rd graders for 3 years.
…4th graders for 5 years.
…5th graders for 1 year.
…6th graders for 2 years.
As the classroom teacher for 18 years, I…
…guided about 600 students. (That first Kinder class would be 38 years old now!)
As Reading Specialist for 10 years, I…
…guided about 6,000 students.
…supported about 300 teachers.

Now I have packed up 26 boxes to be delivered to my 10th school.
I will use the enclosed (90% books) to teach next year,
…my 29th year.
…in my 19th classroom.
…with my 3rd year of 6th graders.

I am looking forward to the next 74 days.
Time to rest, relax, read, write and reflect before the 2019-2020 school year begin!


Kinders vs. 6th graders

I started my teaching career as a Kindergarten teacher in 1986. Now, 33 years later, I’ve promoted myself to 6th grade. This last week of school as I watch my 6th graders, age 11 and 12, they don’t seem so different than those 5 and 6 year tikes from years ago. I’m beginning to wonder what is age-appropriate.

I recall Kinders as being so joyful…until they aren’t and then they cry and/or hit. Somehow when a child’s height reaches 4 feet, tears aren’t acceptable and hands are to stay to themselves. Yet impulsive middle schoolers can forget this rule and forget their iPad and their tote bag and their library book and they never, ever seem to have a pencil.

I wonder if I enable middle schoolers’ behaviors. This year I constantly bought boxes of pencils at Staples. Why? I guess it is more important to me for my students to spend their time reading and writing and discussing and I never want the lack of supplies to get in the way of their participation and creativity. I never expected kinders to hold onto their supplies. The community table held the scissors and pencils and glue, all available when needed. Yet, just five years later, being responsible for your own tools somehow became a rule?

Last week as my last period students worked, the bell rang and all the students herded through the door. Then I looked around the empty room. Chairs not pushed in, lone markers and pencils scattered under desk. I recall when my own children were this age and so involved in their work, creating a 3-D model for science or cooking chocolate chip cookies on the weekend, they too would place so much effort into their work and leave a mess. I often acted as the street cleaner after the parade, cleaning up after them. I was proud of their product and the energy spent creating. Yet, maybe I enabled them. Not sure. Not sure what is age appropriate.

I do know I like being around Kinders and 6th graders and all creative people.