Spying on MY reading

This year I am teaching Reading 6 in Middle School so naturally, I am spending my time reading and spying on myself as I read. This was a trick I learned first from Ellin Keene in Mosaic of Thought, Heinemann, 1997 (a life-changing book for me and for the literacy world) and then reinforced by the staff developers at Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. Armed with the Pathways Reading book and more specifically focused the learning progressions of four skills (character traits, characters’ response to change, predicting, and author’s craft), I spied on myself as a reader Friday night.

Friday during the school day, author Alan Gratz visited my school promoting his newest book, Ban This Book.

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As I was leaving school with an autographed copy of his book, I stopped at the supply table in the back of my classroom and took time to set myself up for reading this book AND recording my thinking about it. I grabbed some post-it notes and added one to the last page of each chapter. Now for  this particular book, some of the chapters were short and the book itself is 243 pages long. And I will admit that many minutes went by as I armed my book with end-of-chapter note-taking space. However, now the book was ready. As soon as I heated up some dinner, I was ready, too, with pen in one hand and book in the other.

Friday night I sat and read the whole book! It IS a page turner and fun school story about one of my favorite things – books! And I found as I got to the end of each chapter, with that blank yellow post-it staring at me, I had a thought about the book at that moment and I jotted it down quickly before beginning the next chapter. I jotted character traits about the main and minor characters. I jotted down my predictions of what would happen next. I jotted that moment when the main character acted out of character. I jotted about times when I felt just like a character. I jotted about moves the author made to keep me reading.

It looked like this:

Then Monday night, I removed all the post-its. As I did, I sorted them into piles. All the ones about Amy Anne in a pile. Another pile for Trey and a third for Trey’s mom. I had a prediction pile and an author-craft pile. I had two favorite scenes, so I put those together. It looked like this:


During my many visits to Institutes at Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, the staff developers have encouraged the use of a Reading Notebook. Since the act of reading is so invisible, the notebook is the place to make one’s thinking while reading visible to themselves and others. It is the place to hold onto thoughts, review them, grow them, revise them, and have them close at hand during a book club discussion or in front when a literary essay is being drafted.

As I looked over all the piles on my dining room table, I asked myself, what are the big ideas? I decided I had enough thinking to make two double-pages. One would be devoted to characters, their traits, my connections to them and times they acted out of character. (These are all skills defined in TCRWP Pathways to Reading book.) It ended up looking like this:

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I then took the predictions I made, my author’s craft notes, my two favorite scene and fun things I learned while reading this book and added them to look like this:


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I can’t wait to teach my sixth graders today. My mini-lesson will be a reminder about how, when we read, we think. One way to make our thinking visible is to stop and jot it down. Then I’ll show them how I did it! First, I set myself up for success by having a book of my choice that I was motived to read. (Somehow meeting the author hours before at my school and holding a book, signed by the author is very motivating!). Then I took time to add post-its so I’d be reminded to stop and jot. Using post-its allowed me to sort thinking into piles. It allowed me to them organize my thinking into my notebook. At the end, I added some color for fun.

Now, I am on the lookout for others who read this book thoughtfully. With my notebook in hand, I’m ready for a book club discussion. Or maybe I’ll use these pages to write a literary essay. No matter what, I know I will have fun sharing my spying on my reading with my 6th graders today!


Election Night, 2016

I watched Rachel Maddow interview Hillary Clinton Wednesday night on The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC. I was reminded that this summer, while at the TCRWP Summer August Writing Institute, I worked on a story about Election Night. I didn’t have my laptop with me then so I hand wrote it. I realized that I never added it to my blog so I decided to do that today to be my Tuesday TwoWritingTeachers blog post. #ImStillWithHer

I voted for Hillary. From the time I was old enough to vote, I’ve always voted Democratic. To me, Democrats look out for everyone – young, old, black, white, poor, middle class. This feels fair to me, so I vote Democratic. However, I must admit that I voted for Hillary for another reason. My oldest daughter, Bridgit worked for the Hillary campaign. So, of course, out of loyalty to my daughter, I voted for her boss.

I visited Bridgit at the Brooklyn Headquarters once during the summer of 2016. Bridigt took my photo in front of the large painted “Hillary for” arrow. I rememeber adding a post-it to the hundreds on the wall. Mine said, “children – especially those attending public school”.


I remember how she took me around and introduced me to lots of her co-workers. I remember telling each, “Thank you for all you are doing….keep it up…this work you are doing is too important.” And as a mom, I imagined telling my friends for years to come how Bridgit helped elect the 1st female President of the United States.

On the evening of Election Day, I sat on the couch alone. The TV was tuned to MSNBC and my phone was in my hand. I watched the US map on TV – soon states would be colored red and blue but now, all still were white.

I sent Bridgit this text:
Tuesday, Nov. 8, 7:09pm
Fingers crossed for today!!
Can’t imagine the feeling
at your office. Thankful for
ALL you have done.
Bridgit’s reply: FullSizeRender 3

A little later I texted and asked:
Tuesday, Nov. 8, 8:16pm
Where are you

Bridgit’s reply:
at HQ
crunching numbers.

ME: Keep it going!
Empire State bldg and
NBC are lit up pretty
red, white, and blue
Hate all the “Too Close to Call”

Bridgit – I know
Everything is just really 
surreal right now

ME: Hang in there

Then later still, I sent this:

Tuesday, Nov. 8, 11:12pm
ME: Completely numb
Hang in there

Bridgit: I just…
What is this world
we’re living in?

The news wonks seemed confused by the election returns coming in. I’m feeling confused, too. I’m also hurting because I know my daughter is hurting and there is nothing I can do.

Instead of pressing the green speech bubble to send another text, I press the green phone receiver app, then contacts, then D, then Bridgit and I hear a ring. Then I hear it connect but don’t hear anything else.

“You OK?” I ask.

“No,” she replies. I can hear such sadness as she says this one word.

“At least VA went blue, ” I say, trying to be positive. Then we both are quiet. There is really nothing more to say. We stay quiet. Then after a bit, I say, “OK. I’m heading off to bed. So proud of you. Try to get some rest too” and I pressed the red phone receiver button and end the call.

I voted for Hillary and so did the majority of American voters. But that wasn’t enough. My state of VA went blue for Hillary and so did 18 other states but that wasn’t enough. My daughter worked 7 days a week, 14+ hours a day for 6 months at HQ in Brooklyn for the #ImWithHer campaign. But that wasn’t enough.

Losing is always hard. On Election Night, 2016 I learned losing is the worst ever when it is your child that loses and there is nothing you can do. At 12:30am, now a half-hour into Wednesday, I grabbed the remote, clicked off the TV and go to bed. Numb.

While watching the September 13th interview by Rachel with Hillary, I learned that Hillary started a non-profit called Onward Together with the motto: “Resist, insist, persist, enlist.” After hearing about it, I made a donation because I like what the organization stands for: Onward Together is dedicated to advancing the vision that earned nearly 66 million votes in the last election. By encouraging people to organize, get involved, and run for office, Onward Together will advance progressive values and work to build a brighter future for generations to come.

I’m starting to feel less numb.



Prior to that…

I am teaching Reading 6 this year
in a middle school in Arlington, VA,
my first middle school experience.

Prior to that I taught 3rd grade
at a brand new elementary school in Arlington, VA.
The year that the school opened and then one more.

Prior to that I taught 5th grade writing
at an amazing elementary school in NW Washington
a DC Public School in a lovely upper-class neighborhood.

Prior to that I taught 4th grade,
returning to the FCPS ES where I 1st taught in FCPS
I was tired of teaching teachers and wanted to teach kids again.

Prior to that I was a FCPS Reading Specialist
2 yrs at Churchill Road, 7 years at Stenwood and 2 years at Westgate
Got to help teachers teach using Reading and Writing Workshop well.
Also spent 2 years documenting my work and earning my National Boards
Also started to regularly learn at TCRWP  sharing all I learned with my co-workers.

Prior to that I taught 4th grade
in FCPS, my first time working in a public school.
I also went to night school at GMU
and earned my Masters in Instructor
with a Reading Specialist endorsement.

Prior to that I taught K, 3, and 4th
at a Catholic School in Arlington.
I brought my girls to work with me
and together we all learned.

Prior to that I had 2 girls
worked odd jobs and daycare jobs,
jobs I could do more easily with kids.

Prior to that I taught Kindergarten
at a different Catholic school
the summer after the first year, I got married.
the Fall after the 2nd year, I had my first daughter.

Prior to that, I graduated with a BS in Education
from the University of Virginia
Curry School of Education.
Go Hoo’s!!

Prior to that, I spent 2 years at the University of Richmond.
Go Spiders!
I spent 4 years at O’Connell High School
I spent 8 years at St. James Elementary School.
I spent 5 years playing at home, especially in my backyard playhouse.

Prior to that, I was born on October 11, 1963.

Making this list makes me realize how I am ready for tomorrow!
I happily am standing on the shoulders of so many great educators
who taught me so much and I have tons to share with my 6th grade Sailors.

Where are YOU in your teaching career?!!

NOTE: I got the idea to write this list poem while sitting in my New Teacher Orientation meeting a week ago. One of the APs introduced herself using this pattern- “Prior to that….Prior to that….” Today I recalled that structure and made this list poem.

Afterwards, my daughter suggested that I listen to the September 1, 2017 This American Life podcast called Private Geography. The summary of it states: Everyone walks around on their own private map of the world. The places we’re from and how they made us, whether we like it or not. The podcast connects to this idea that we are who and what we did before. Do you agree??

8/21/17 Eclipse Reflection

He looked up at me with big dark eyes and as soon as he saw that I’d listen, he started. His words came out of his mouth non-stop and included hand-motions.

“We just saw it! If this is the moon (and he held out his one hand) and this is the sun (he held out his other hand) right now, the moon moved right in front of the sun (and his one hand moved in front of the other) It’s right in front and it covered it up. It is an a clips. It happened right now. Right outside.”

“Wow. And you saw it?” I asked with interested eyes.

“I wore these glasses and I saw it!” he responded with a big grin.

I turned to his mother and said, “You are doing a great job. He is a budding scientist for sure.”

After that exchanged I decided that instead of being alone to watch this event, I’d drive to my daughter, Anne’s camp and share my glasses with her and watch with the other campers.

As I made the trek to South Arlington, I was listening to the live stream of the 2017 Solar Eclipse. The radio announcer was checking in from station to station from Oregon to Kansas to Tennessee and finally to South Carolina. The folks in Oregon cheered and then got very quiet at the moment of totality. Not really great radio. The folks in Kansas were annoyed. It was raining on their gathering. As I drove, I’d tried out my glasses shared by my good friend and great scientist Fran. The day before I was wondering if I was being silly to drive into DC to retrieve glasses from her. Yet, at the first stop light, I placed the glasses on and looked up. WOW – how cool. It was just as that little boy described.

Once at the camp, I sat on the steps outside and Anne texted me that she was bringing her theater campers out in a few minutes. I sat and watched. Another women came and sat by me and I insisted she take a look with my glasses as she didn’t have a pair. For the next 10 minutes, we shared the glasses. Then another mom came with 2 boys. They had glasses and also cereal boxes. The mom also had signs that read My First Solar Eclipse. The boys dutifully stood holding the sign and allowed their picture to be taken. She then pulled out 3 balls. A yellow ball, a little bigger than a baseball, and smaller balls, one blue and one white. She held them and described what was happening. The boys, about 6 or 7 years old seemed to just want to play with the balls and kept asking when they could go get a snack. Despite these boys not being quite as enthusiastic about the cosmic event occurring overhead,  I also thought this mom was doing a great job to raise scientists.

Then the camp class came out. Anne and I shared my glasses as all the campers seemed to come equipped with a pair. After about 15 minutes, we heard thunder and next, a cloud started to move toward our free show. But it was great while it lasted!

Earlier today I read a blog post about another person’s eclipse story. It involved waiting in a long line to get glasses. But her story really was about interacting with the older couple in front of her in that line and with the little girl behind her who told her all about her newly lost tooth. I left this comment on that blog post:

“Yesterday’s eclipse brought people out into the community to interact. Where does community meet to talk, hear about the tooth fairy and share in person, now in the 21st century? I keep wondering about this. Your story reminds me of the importance of shared events and community.”

A week ago Monday, August 21, 2017 was my first remembrance of an eclipse. I do hope to have this experience again. Either way, though, I will continue to seek out opportunities to share events with others in my community.

Notice the eclipse-shaped shadows through the leaves. And the puffy rain cloud rolling in. And the sun through my dining room window once back home. This event was hard to photograph but will stay with me! I’m saving my glasses to use with the next one!

Last Night in Tulum, Mexico

“Let’s head down to the beach on our way back to our room,” Brian said as he handed the signed dinner bill to our waiter.

My bare feet sunk into the soft sandy floor of Ziggy’s Beach Restaurant. Above us was a towering thatched roof holding up no sides at all – the restaurant was all open to the outside. And the ceiling magically was aglow. Many basket-woven spheres hung throughout, each containing a single light bulb that gave off a soft, magical glow.

Tulum’s Ziggy Beach Restaurant was nothing like dining in Arlington, VA. No a/c – just the delightful ocean breeze. No piped in music – a 4-piece band played live music. My favorite musician was the bongo player. Boy could his hands move to make sound. And no hurry – we had just slowly enjoyed cocktails, an appetizer, a fresh fish dinner, said “sure” to dessert, and ended with a glass of port. I don’t know how many hours have passed because vacation rule #1 – no watches. But I do know it was a good long time.

Once I stepped away from the restaurant and onto the beach, I looked up. Wow – so many stars. “There’s the North Star,” I proudly announced. After weeks of studying the evening sky, I was starting to read the sky. However, it does help when the sky is so clear and not overshadowed by city lights!

We continued to step along the the sandy beach just above the shore line. The sand was soft and easy to walk in. Then suddenly, the sand changed. “Look,” I pointed down. Brian turned on his iPhone flashlight and lit up the sand. It was packed down and was in the shape of a long column going back down to the water in one direction and headed up the beach in the other. Quickly, he turned off his flashlight and whispered, “I think that shady spot up there is a turtle.” He pointed up the patched down path to a mound about a yard away.

Suddenly sand flew across my leg. “I think she just sprayed my feet with sand as she digs.” We were strolling on the beach in Tulum, Mexico and suddenly realized we were next to a giant sea turtle trying to lay her eggs on the beach.

Dinner, barefoot, live music, star-filled sky and a turtle, too. What a magical last evening of vacation!



My Reflections – TCRWP Summer Writing Institute

From July 31-August 4, I had the pleasure of learning from Lucy Calkins and her staff developers at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project during their Summer August Writing Institute.

Each day I got to sit and be inspired by a different Keynote Speaker.
Day One – Lucy!!!   I wrote about it HERE.
Day Two – Katherine Paterson; Day Three – Daniel Beaty; Day Four – Carmen Agra Deedy and then a bonus, Kwame Alexander was in NYC relasing his newest book. I wrote about all this HERE.

Each day I spend 2 hours in a small group advance section learning with Mary Ehrenworth who got me to generate LOTS of story ideas and take two of them through the writing process and share one at the publishing party on Friday. I wrote about it HERE.

Each day I also spend 2 hours in a small group advance section learning with Hannah Kolbo who got me to understand the power of Mentor Text in writing workshop. I wrote about it HERE.

I feel so grateful to have had this week! I now am reading and rereading my Units of Study kit books, especially the Guide and the Pathways book with fresh eyes, ready to be as strong a cheerleader and coach as ever for my students as Lucy, Mary, and Hannah were for me. I’m motivated to stand on their shoulders and guide my students to be the best readers and writers they can be. Then, they will read and understand how to live and will write to change their world.

Thanks to TCRWP. You helped me make a plan for this upcoming year.
Specifically, I will work on these three things.

1. grow strong partnerships in my classroom, providing them with lots of talk time and helping all to realize that they need to be a strong partner because I can NOT be the only teacher in the room.

2. work to make my classroom library look more like a bookstore, enticing readers to pick books to read and then also use these books to mentor them as writers.

3. use Pathway progressions with students to help them set goals to grow their reading skills.

What are your 2017-18 goals as a teacher?

My Stats

Inspired by this facebook post by slicer, Michelle Haseltine:

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here are my 2017-18 teaching stats:

25 – number of years as a teacher
12 – number of different classroom
8   – number of schools
4  –  number of school districts
2  –  number of titles: Generalists in ES and Reading Specialists in ES
5  –  number of grades taught: K, 3, 4, 5 and coached teachers K-6
8 –  number of Principals guiding me
1 –  number of states: VA
Current Position – 6th grade Reading at Swanson Middle School, Arlington, VA

I could also add these stats:

1 – number of parents still living
0 – number of grandparents still living
3 – number of siblings: sister and 2 brothers
3 – number of pets growing up: all dogs
1 – number of states I’ve lived in: Virginia
5 – number of cities in VA I’ve lived in: Falls Church, Richmond, Charlottesville, Alexandria, Arlington
4 – number of countries visited: Italy, Spain, France, Mexico
2 – number of sports I play: swimming, softball
10 – books I’ve read this summer

I can see this exercise as a classroom warm-up during the first week of school. I post mine as an example and share Michelle’s. Then give them time to write. Encourage them to add more lines beyond what Michelle and I listed. Then share with a partner, with another partnership. Maybe I’ll push them to complete this sentence:

Based on his/her stats, I can tell that _____ is the kind of person who ______.

What do you think my stats teach you about me?
What other lines could/should I add to my stat list?
What do YOUR stats look like?!?

Writing Publicly

I attended a workshop and on my blog I jotted my thoughts about it. My writing did include lots of tips and things shared by the presenter. I then posted it publicly and was asked to not do so by the presenter’s organization. I get that it is her info and not for me to share. I removed it from twitter and facebook.

Last year I wrote about something I did at my school and a national organization asked me to be a guest blogger and share what I did. Once it was shared publicly,  I received an email asking that I either join (by paying a fee) their National Group to have the right to use the name I was using or change the name of what I was writing about. I changed the name.

Both these incidents took the wind out of my writing sails. Maybe it is that Catholic upbringing but both times I felt so guilty for writing and sharing what I hadn’t really realized wasn’t mind to share.

Writing is tricky. I use it to process my thinking. I use it to share something fun I learned or tried as a teacher. I write on my blog and then share freely. I don’t believe in the concept of Teachers Pay Teachers. If something could help a kid, I want the adult supporting that kid to know it. I share.

In the past, I’d share through talking. I’d meet up with friends at a coffee shop and chat for hours. Now I have discovered blogging and I share my thinking using my blog. It is easier and more efficient for me to share my blog with my teacher friends. It is an easy way for me to keep all my notes in one place and then I can search to find a certain topic.

But I feel like I need to take a class on the legal implications of blogging. I honestly do not know enough about it. I also am a dutiful person. I want to do the right thing. I don’t want to share ideas that aren’t legally mine to share. It feels very blurry in my mind. Maybe more blurry today just because it is pouring rain.

Please share with me any tips you know of about correctly blogging publicly?
All tips are appreciated as I don’t want to keep being asked to change my writing?

Once I learn, then I’ll feel better equipped to encourage my upcoming 6th graders to write and share publicly, too.

A poem inspired by Judith Viorst

I read this poem by: Judith Viorst from Sad underwear and other complications (1995)

What Dads Do

Make bookshelves.
Make burgers.
Make money.
Make funny faces that make you laugh.
Scratch your back when you can’t reach where it itches.
Lift you up on their shoulders.
Snore when they’re sleeping (but say they don’t).
Pitch but not so fast that you can’t hit their pitches.
Play tickles with you when you feel like a silly person.
Snuggle up close with you when you feel like a sad one.

Dads explain electricity
And peninsulas
And help you count the stars.

I wish I still had one.


I decided to change it to a list about what moms do and end it with the line:
I’m glad I still have one

My poem:

What Moms Do

Bake pies
Crochet afghans
And play a mean hand of pinochle

Mine drove me early, very early to swim practice
daily, before school.
Mine bought me new dresses,
especially for the first day of school.
Mine stood for hours in white clothes
timing at the summer Saturday swim meet.
Mine now makes great company
on all our road trips.

And now, most of her time is spent helping others.
keeping lonely friends company.
driving sick friends to the doctor.
offering condolences at funeral wakes.
And always having time to visit and help out in my classroom.

Moms – I’m glad I still got one.

Tomorrow, I’ll be reading this aloud during my 3rd grade classroom’s Poetry Celebration!
And my mom is coming to hear it!


I’ve been thinking about the kind of problem-solver I am. Teaching reading in 3rd grade and using the Units of Study for Teaching Reading is making me ponder this topic based on their anchor chart:

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I do think at times, I have been each of these kind of problem-solvers. But the first bullet point seems to be one I favor most. I don’t like drama. I don’t like unfairness. I don’t like negativity. When it occurs, I avoid.

I admire the woman I learned about today when I accompanied my class to their Spanish class. She solved problems head on and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992 for her efforts. Her name is Rigoberta Menchu and her story can be read HERE. I was inspired by this woman. I wonder why I didn’t know of her already? In 1992, I was 29 years old and had a newborn and a three year old. I probably never took time to read the newspaper then. (I guess I was dealing with my own problems head on!)

I do find myself asking for help, bullet point #3. I’ll talk to family. I’ll talk to friends. I’ll read books. All will share thoughts on the topic. I seek validation in the way I plan to solve a problem. It feels better if someone else tells me my way of solving “it” is a good idea.

This weekend, a friend offered me advise. My friend said, “Life is like a revolving door. The opening will reveal itself. Just be patient.” I guess that is another way of saying the fourth and final bullet point.

So many ways to address a problem.
Which is your go-to way for solving a problem?