Literacy Life

As the head of the ELA department, I suggest to my middle school ELA teachers to post what they are reading. Because literacy includes reading, writing, listening and speaking, I started posting it like this (after seeing a similar chart on twitter by @tenilleshade):

All last year, I kept this chart going. Somewhere between the beginning of this school year and now, I’ve lapsed. This March, I will get back into this documentation of my Literacy Life. Mostly, because I want to reord that I wrote 31 times to my blog this month!! Also, my niece just started working for NPRs On Point, and I’ve started to listen to this smart reporting. I can add the movie I viewed as I flew to Amsterdam – The Woman King (WOW!) and I can post about the meetings I faciliate for speaking.

And thanks to Nic Stone, I will add Fast Pitch and Chaos Theory to the books I read this month. During my Friday’s 7th grade reading class, I read-aloud the final 3 chapters and we all enjoyed the ending! Then Saturday afternoon, I sat and read from cover to cover Chaos Theory, her newest. Nic mentioned during our assembly that the publisher like the diaolog when she pitched this book years ago, her first book to write. Yet, they didn’t think the content was right at that time. So she quickly pitched Dear Martin. They liked it and it became her first published book. Yesterday, I was hooked by the dialogue and the frequent back and worth text messages between to two main characters, both dealing with different mental illnesses. This is book I needed to read as I continue to understand the chemicals that flow through our brains and cause all to feel and act and react in certain ways.

How do you document your literacy life?
What have you read, written, viewed, listened to or spoken about recently?

NOTE: HERE is a template you could use

Saturday Reading!

A blue sky with the bright sun, lower in the sky, dabbling through the newly red, yellow and orange painted leaves. Suddently it looks like fall. As I step out onto the back deck, it feels like fall and I am glad I chose to pull on socks, sneakers and a fleece. I head to my favorite chair and spend the next few hours in a laboratory meeting smart scientist who wirite code. And their creations, the robots, two who make it all the way to Mars. This genre isn’t my go-to but today I can’t put A Rover’s Story by Jasmine Wargas down. She’s crafted a story that I finished in one sitting. And as my week begins, the story is still with me. Still figuring out all the many take-aways from meeting Sophie, Rania, Xander, Res, Journey, Fly and Guardian. I took time to write down a few of the things I love about this book. #AuthorsAreRockStars

P.S. So glad that my Covid-eyes stopped watering so I could focus on reading again.
(Feeling much better! I continue to be grateful for scientist – maybe another reason I like the characters in this book so much…such smart, dedicated scientists!

Hope at School

“Please come read with me, Y?” I announced and the 7th grade girl sauntered over and sat in the empty chair next to me.

I showed her a 2014 two-page newsela article entitled, “First lady says “Let’s Move” to the home kitchen”. I purposely chose this particular article because Y likes to cook and as person of color, I already knew that she was a fan of our former first lady.

“Please read it aloud so I can listen to you read.”

She folded her arms, sat back in her chair and read the first line in an angry voice.

I stopped her. “Look. You aren’t in trouble. I am going to read with everyone today. When you read, I can’t see how you are going it. By reading aloud to me, I can tell what you are doing. Then I can know how to help you get better. Please start again and read with expression as best as you can, instead of someone who is angry at the world.”

After a minute, she began again. By the 4th line, she even pulled in her chair, leaned forward and began tracking the words with her left index finger. At the 2nd paragraph, I noticed the story made her smile. At the 4th paragraph, she read “honorary chairwomen” and asked “What’s that?” I stopped my timer and explained the meaning of that term. When she finished, I asked her the four comprehension questions and she answered them all correctly.

“Can I tell you how you did?” I asked.


“You read this 7th grade passage with 99% accuracy and only stumbling on two mutli-syllablic words. Just know that when a word is longer, you need to work at it. You read with great expression. And I loved that you read and asked a question about a phrase. That is what profiecent readers do. They ask questions and are curious. Keep doing that!!”

I then reminded her how all her reading about cooking was helping her to grow her reading skills. And I gave her a pass to go to the library as I heard the librarian had a few new cookbooks.

The second quarter ends on Friday. Y never wanted to be in my reading elective class. A score on a test last year placed her in this elective. Because she could show me today that she could read on grade level, I’ve recommended that she switch to talking Art as her elective for the 2nd semester. I’m glad she could show me she could read. Maybe learning is happening, even during this pandemic school year.


“Where is this? Is this just a made up place? I mean it sounds like people are getting shot all the time. Are there really places like that?

“Sure…like Aleppo.”

“I think it’s Chicago.”

“Guys, we live in a bubble in Arlington. There are places like this.”

I tell the author that this was the conversation in my room as I read aloud his book.
“What do I tell them? I’m just a white teacher living and working in North Arlington, a mostly upper mid-class white school.”

“Tell them this book is based on a shooting that happened in Suitland, MD, just miles away from your school. And keep reading and talking!”

Then he signed my Reading Notebook page that I made after reading his book.


Thank you, TCRWP for bringing Jason Reynolds to speak and sign books on Saturday.
So glad I got to have a conversation with him. So glad I get to read aloud his books with my students. Reading and discussing to understand all the places where…


No Longer Needed

At a conference once, I heard a teacher during a presentation make this comment: “There comes a point when I am no longer needed. My students are engaged…I can sit back and watch….my goal is to have students who are confident and excited… the by-product is increased knowledge.”

This description of a teacher is my goal, too. Having a classroom buzzing with students , all engaged. Students confidently making decisions. I plan and model. I set out materials. Then I watch and listen, ask questions and offer feedback. My role is to be the catalyst. The students’ role is to be in motion.

Tomorrow, I plan to have my 6th grade students watch this video and then I’ll guide a discuss using these words – vicitm, perpetrator, bystander, upstander. I’ll ask:

Why doesn’t the bystander act?
How might the bystander have made a difference?

Then I plan to nudge my students to notice if any of the stories we read during our Social Issue Book Club Unit (using this resource by TCRWP) involved upstanders. I plan to end the lesson asking them to spend time being on the lookout for upstanders, asking friends and family to talk about upstanders they have known, and to think about how they, my students, might become an upstander in their family or community.

Tomorrow’s lesson is to set my students up for our the End of Unit Project. As a culminating project, I will guide my students to pick an issue important to them and to plan out a way to TAKE ACTION in order to raise awareness about this issue. Then, on the evening of March 12th, families will visit to view our Middle School Social Issue Fair.

My hope is that all next week, my classroom is a buzz of activity. Students will be researching. Students will be creating. Students will be collaborating and discussing. And I will watch and listen and offer feedback. And my hope is, there will come a point when I am no longer needed.


NOTE: During March, I plan to revisit prior blog posts and revise. This post is a revision of this post, written on March 20, 2014



I believe in Proficient Reader Research

I heard Jen Serravallo speak yesterday at the 2018 VSRA conference and she shared a slide to show the conference audience what she believes in. I realized it is what I strongly believe in, too. So I sent out this tweet this morning:


Back in 2002, I read Mosaic of Thought by Ellin Keene (Heinemann, 1997) for the first time and it changed me. It taught me to spy on myself as a reader and notice all that I do. For the first time through this lens, I realized I did lots of things well, then a 39-year old reader.

For the first time, I celebrated that I read words and visualize the images created by the words in my mind. I celebrated that at the end of a paragraph, I have wonderings. I celebrated that I could understand the words more clearly using all my own background knowledge.

And I stopped focusing on or being embarrassed for all I didn’t do well as a reader. Like seeing a new, multi-syllabic word and mispronouncing it at first. Like not sounding fluent on my first read-aloud of a text. I still fight anxiety when I read-aloud due to the forced participation and bad memories associated with round-robin reading in elementary school.  I still need to work hard to overcome my negative feelings related to poetry due to the many poems I didn’t “get” in 11th grade AP English class.

Attending the 2018 Virginia State Reading Association Conference helped me to realize that believing in Proficient Reader Research is a thing, as opposed to focusing on what isn’t being done as a reader, a deficient model.  Being a Proficient Reader is my mindset as a reading teacher. I notice ALL that my 6th grade readers do. And as Jen recommends, I start there, with what readers do and then coach them to do the next thing on the learning progression related to the skill.

Thank you, Ellin and Jen for helping me renew what I believe in at the 2018 VSRA Conference!

What do YOU believe in?

VSRA Presentation

Yesterday, instead of teaching my 6th graders, I went to Richmond, VA and made a presentation with my friend and colleague, Tammy. Because of all the support we got, the day was a success.

Thanks to Tammy driving us the two hours down 95, we easily arrived.

Thanks to the helpful Marriot staff, the car was parked, our bags were checked and we had a few hours to grab lunch and rehearse before our 4pm showtime.

Thanks to Evi, our one friend also attending the conference, whose serendipitous encounter just 10 minutes after arriving amongst the 100s of teachers scattered around the lobby, helped calm our nerves. (At least one person was planning to come hear us!)

Thanks to the conference volunteers who registered us and helped us find where we were presenting when confusingly the “Learning Lab” wasn’t listed on the conference map.


Thanks to the tech supports. One man ensured we had the cords and dongle and a working mic and another shared the wifi password with us. (And for Tammy who tracked down these supports while we both envisioned the worst case scenario – our tech not working for a presentation called  Using Technology During Reading and Writing Workshop).

Thanks to Sarah, a conference attendee who volunteered to introduce us to our audience. She arrived early and helped pass out our handout and shared the wifi password and now is a new teacher friend. Afterwards we exchanged emails after we discovered she lives in the next town over from us back home.

Thanks to the 30 or so teachers who came to learn with us! They listened, asked questions and smiled as we both nervously shared examples of our students using padlet, google slides and kidblog in Reading and Writing Workshop all shared from    this padlet.


Finally, thanks also to our school, system who supported us by covering the cost of the conference and are family and friends, who sent text messages of encouragement.

As I sent out a tweet after the presentation, I was reminded that it was International Women’s Day. I’m thankful, as a women, I had the opportunity today to empower more women in their teaching work.

Now today, I get to spend another day here. But this time, I’ll be sitting in the audience to learn from Jen Serravillo and Smokie Daniels! And I’m wearing jeans and my VA sweatshirt (because happily, my team, the UVA Mens Basketball team won their first game yesterday in the ACC tournament – Go Hoos!).


Study Groups

When I teach a lesson as a Reading 6 teacher, I teach it one day – A Day – 5 times. Then on B day, 3 more times. Yes, 2 of my periods, called Mods at my school, are full year reading class so they come daily. Then the other 3 Mods are a semester class, every other day and on the off day, they learn a foreign language.

So today I taught a lesson for the 6th, 7th and 8th time today. It was Session 14 in the new Social Issues Book Club unit, part of the Units of Study for Teaching Reading in Middle School. They suggest to have the kids reflect on this video on vimeo called Bystander, using the words victim, perpetrator, bystander and upstander.

I wanted the students to have the 4 words defined and name a character from books we’d read during this unit that acted like the word so I could see them apply the definition before viewing. But I also wanted this task to go quickly so I made it a competition.  “The first book club that adds these 4 words to their notebook, defines them and adds an example of a character acting as the word, gets a prize. As you work, you may share ideas/answers with your club members. Work together and let me know when all in your club have the task completed.”

Boy, did making it a competition motivate middle schoolers! “I’ll look up victim. You look up perpetrator,” I heard, “I think the dad in Stray is an upstander. Who’s a bystander?” There isn’t really a perpetrator in The Lemonade Club? said another. “Sure there is – cancer!” was the clubmate reply.

As one group announced they were done, I gave each a peppermint treat and told them to get up, take their notebooks and help the other groups finish. Within minutes, all in the room were done and ready to watch the video.  The video discussion was just as lively. But I’ll save that for tomorrow’s Slice.

Just before showing the video, I congratulated all. I told them how proud I was to see their book club working well together to get the task done. Then I gave them a tip that I learned from Mary Ehreworth at TCRWP this past summer – teach middle schoolers and high schoolers to form study groups. My tip sounded something like this:

“Readers, what you just did just then was so smart. You formed a study group and got the work done and done fast. Because you were talking and teaching and writing while completing the task, you really know these words now. In 7th and 8th grade, in High School and in college you will be given tasks to do and there will NOT be enough hours in the day to do it all. I encourage YOU to form study groups. Ask a few others to form a group. Pick a place to meet after school. Divide up the work and share answers. It isn’t cheating. It is a smart way to ensure that you get all the assignments done and learn well.” 

Today, as my 8th group collaborated together, I sat back and smiled. I wish someone had told me to collaborate more when I was a student in Middle School. High School, and College.

Did you form study groups when you were in school?
Do you encourage your students to collaborate together?



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!


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?