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Year End Update: #MustReadin2016

Year End Update: #MustReadin2016


#MustReadin2016 is a personal challenge to commit to reading books of your choice.  Visit creator Carrie Gelson’s site here for more information and for links to other #MustReadin2016 book lists. 

In 2016, I created a Must Read list of 12 books that had been recommended by my reading community and set a goal of reading 100 books by the end of the year.  I read 11.5 of the 12 Must Read books (halfway through The Thing about Jellyfish) and met my goal of reading 100 books (barely!) with the 101st book completed on December 31st. Highlights from my Must Read list, which you can find here, included Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate and Wish Girl by Nikki Loftin, which I enjoyed reading with my sons, as well as Personalized PD by Jason Bretzmann, which has greatly influenced my work with teachers this year.

As I reflected on participation in this personal reading challenge, I realized that I have gained valuable insight into how to cultivate reading communities for our students. Rather than reviewing the books on my list, I believe the real take-away is to consider how the lessons I learned from this experience can influence the ways in which we approach reading in the classroom.

Lesson #1: Set goals but allow adjustments.

For me, the goal to read 100 books in 365 days was lofty but gave me a target to shoot for.  When fall came around, I was teaching grad school and the kids soccer schedule suddenly equated to practice or a game every day of the week (yes-all 7 days!). I felt anxious that I wouldn’t meet my goal. Self-talk related to my reading goal became pretty negative.  How could I possible meet the goal I had set, given the limited time I now had for reading? I adjusted my goal to 75 books, which I felt was achievable. Once I hit 75, I talked myself back into that goal of 100 and ended up accomplishing it.  However, I believe that meeting the loftier goal is due to the fact that I could adjust it to a more manageable number when I felt stressed about meeting the deadline.

Questions for Reflection:

  • What systems are in place for students to set reading goals in the classroom?
  • Do students have the ability to reflect on and adjust their goals, or are they fixed targets?

Lesson #2: Lack of choice is detrimental to developing a reading identity. 

I believe choice is the number one motivational factor in accomplishing a reading goal. If someone had handed me a list of books and declared them to be the Must Reads of 2016, I would never have completed this challenge, even if the books were outstanding and even if they were books I would have been likely to choose on my own.  The power is in the choosing.  In fact, I didn’t look at the 12 books that I had deemed Must Reads and check them off one by one.  If I had, I would have missed The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill, Raymie Nightengale by Kate DiCamillo, The Night Gardener by Terry and Eric Fan, Orbiting Jupiter by Gary Schmidt, and Mindsets and Moves by Gravity Goldberg, which turned out to be some of my 5-star ratings this year. I learned that I needed to read “off list,” even the list I had made for myself. Again, the power is in the choosing.

Questions for Reflection:

  • What is the balance between the percentage of books that students are assigned to read versus the percentage of books that they choose to read?
  • What happens when a student dislikes a book that they have chosen or wants to read “off-list”?

Lesson #3: Access to a large volume of books is critical. 

To increase the volume of reading, one must have access to various avenues for obtaining reading material. Sources included the public library, school book fairs, bookstores, online vendors, conferences, colleagues, and friends. I read audio books, eBooks, and good old-fashioned print.  I read in the car, on vacation, and in the doctor’s office, using an iPad or a phone.  If access to these sources had been removed, my reading goal would not have been attainable.

Questions for Reflection:

  • How much time are students spending looking for books that could be spent reading if high interest books were easily accessible?
  • How can we increase access to books both within and outside of school?

Lesson #4: A system for tracking progress is necessary.

My system of choice is Goodreads.  I was able to use the goal-setting, logging, and rating features to track my reading progress and estimate how close I was to my goals.  Goodreads allows users the capability of keeping lists of books, indicating books to be read, books read, and books categorized into customized lists. I could keep track of genre or recommended ages of readers and create lists for my kids. At any time, I could mark a book as completed or enter the number of pages read to track measurable progress. Most importantly, all of this tracking was done by myself, for myself.  Others could view my progress, but the only person holding me accountable was me.

Questions for Reflection:

  • How are students tracking their reading progress? Do students have ownership of this system?
  • Are options in place that are consistent with the way adults track progress toward goals?  Are they authentic?

Lesson #5: A reading community encourages and inspires an authentic reading life. 

Books beg to be discussed, to be written about, to be shared. A reading community provides a forum for recommending your next read, cheering you on as you work toward your goals, sharing reviews that showcase the uniqueness that each reader brings to the experience. Goodreads friends, as well as the “Must Read” and “It’s Monday, What are You Reading” groups, have served as in-person and online communities in which books are honored and readers are celebrated.

Questions for Reflection:

  • How are reading communities cultivated within the classroom?
  • How can we strive to create a space in which authentic discussion around books is the norm?

I’m kicking off 2017 with another goal of  reading 100 books and have started with some that I have been waiting to read for quite awhile: Ashes by Laurie Halse Anderson, Pax by Sara Pennypacker, and Who’s Doing the Work? How to Say Less So Readers Can Do More by Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris. I’m putting the finishing touches on my #MustReadin2017 list and welcome your recommendations for my next reads!

The book is in your court…

IMG_4918Visit Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers to participate in the #IMWAYR community.



Fall update: #MustReadin2016 & #CrenshawFoodDrive

Fall update: #MustReadin2016 & #CrenshawFoodDrive

#MustReadin2016 is a personal challenge to commit to reading books of your choice.  Visit creator Carrie Gelson’s site here for more information and for links to other #MustReadin2016 book lists. 


While I have been tackling my Must Read in 2016 booklist, many other books have crept in that weren’t on my radar when creating this list at the end of 2015.  Favorite additions to my 2016 list include All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan KielyMindsets and Moves by Gravity Goldberg, Echo Echo: Reverso Poems About Greek Myths by Marilyn Singer, and DIY Literacy by Kate Roberts and Maggie Beattie Roberts. All of these books deserve five star ratings and a spot on your Must Read lists!

I set out to write brief descriptions of several books on my Must Read list that I have recently completed, but I have since decided to dedicate this full post to Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate.


My nine year old son and I read Crenshaw together this summer.  And we couldn’t put it down. Applegate tackles the topics of poverty and homelessness gently and through the eyes of a child.  Jackson’s imaginary friend, Crenshaw, seems to appear exactly when Jackson needs him the most, helping him cope with his family’s mounting financial stress.  There is an excellent book trailer that brings Crenshaw to life and can be shown when recommending this book to others.

Crenshaw is a difficult book to read without being moved to take action. Jackson and his sister are often hungry and without food or resources. Applegate engaged in research for the book at the Monarch School whose mission is to educate students who are impacted by homelessness. According to Applegate’s website, “Nearly one in five kids in America lives in a household that struggles to put food on the table.

So how can you help?

Applegate is sponsoring a Fight Hunger with Crenshaw campaign, in which schools can win a Skype visit with her by being one of the top 3 schools to collect the most food for a local food pantry by November 30th. She includes resources for schools and libraries to use to promote the campaign on her website.


This image is part of the Crenshaw Digital Toolkit that can be downloaded as part of the Fight Hunger with Crenshaw campaign that is linked above. 

Many thanks to Carrie Gelson who organizes the Must Read challenge!  Participating in this annual challenge requires setting goals, monitoring progress, and reflecting on outcomes or changing course.  There are numerous benefits for educators to join reading communities, including modeling these processes for students, being able to recommend quality selections to colleagues, and helping students find the right book at the right time. There’s nothing more powerful than connecting the issues faced by a character to issues within our students’ communities, and Crenshaw provides a perfect opportunity to teach empathy and the power that readers have to take action.

“I hope children will experience losing themselves in a book; at same time I hope they’ll experience finding themselves in one.”

~Kylene Beers on Twitter for #WRAD16

Check out what others in the Must Read challenge are reading here.

Do you have a recommendation for our next Must Read lists?  If so, please comment below.

The book is in your court…


Visit Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers to participate in the #IMWAYR community.

Summer Learning Plans- #IMWAYR

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The arrival of summer brings family adventures, celebrations with friends, lazy days near the water, and late nights centered around kids, s’mores, and fireflies. But for many educators, the time off also provides the much-needed time to rejuvenate through continued learning and reading.

The following posts from the connected educator community jump-started my own planning for summer reading and continued personal and professional growth.

  • Leigh Anne Eck from A Day in the Life shares her summer learning plans and  invites other educators who have a passion for learning to collaborate on a Google Slide presentation to capture the variety of experiences available.
  • Betsy Hubbard breaks her summer learning plans down by month in this post from Two Writing Teachers.
  • Donalyn Miller outlines the #bookaday challenge here. To participate, set your own start and end date, read an average of a book a day during that time period, and share your reading via a social media site of your choice.
  • Throughout the year, at There’s a Book for That, Carrie Gelson shares titles that both she and her students enjoy. You’ll find recommendations for a variety of genres and categories, including diverse books and nonfiction.
  • Fran McVeigh is on her second week of learning at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Institute and blogs about her take-aways at Resource-Full.

Inspired by this group of connected educators, as well as my colleagues who are also on a continual quest to learn and grow, I made sure to take advantage of learning opportunities this summer. Keep an eye out for future posts where I will share my learning from:

In the meantime, I’ve tried to create a balance with my summer reading plans to ensure that I’m always reading something for students, something for teachers, and something for no particular purpose at all. Below are my three current reads:


Stella by Starlight (from my Must Read in 2016 list)- From Goodreads: “Stella lives in the segregated South; in Bumblebee, North Carolina, to be exact about it. Some stores she can go into. Some stores she can’t. Some folks are right pleasant. Others are a lot less so.” Read more here.


Mindsets and Moves– From Corwin Press: “What if you could have an owner’s manual on reading ownership? What if there really were a framework for building students’ agency and independence? …Consider Mindsets & Moves your guide. Here, Gravity describes how to let go of our default roles of assigner, monitor, and manager and instead shift to a growth mindset. Easily replicable in any setting, any time, her 4 M framework ultimately lightens your load because they allow students to monitor and direct their reading lives.” Read more here.


All the Light we Cannot See– From Goodreads: “From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, the beautiful, stunningly ambitious instant New York Times bestseller about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.” Read more here.

Consider sharing your Summer Learning Plans and/or the books on your summer reading list!  The book is in your court…

#MustReadin2016 is a personal challenge to commit to reading books of your choice.  Visit creator Carrie Gelson’s site here for more information and for links to other #MustReadin2016 book lists. Visit Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers to participate in the #IMWAYR community.

Notebook Time by Allison Marchetti & Rebekah O’Dell #TheEdCollabGathering

Notebook Time by Allison Marchetti & Rebekah O’Dell #TheEdCollabGathering



This series of posts includes learning and reflections from #TheEdCollabGathering, a day of online professional learning hosted on April 2, 2016 by Chris Lehman and team at The Educator Collaborative. 

Notebook Time: Bringing Discovery and Play Back into the Writing Classroom

Earlier this week, my son completed a quarterly writing assessment in his first grade classroom. 40 minutes of on-demand writing based on a prompt provided to the class may sound formal to us, but to him it sounded fun!  He was able to choose his topic, mentally prepare a day in advance, and bring a resource to help generate ideas.  He wrote about a favorite collection that included pirates and Pokemon.  Sure he was providing an opinion, reasons, introduction, and conclusion, as well as attending to spelling, sentence structure and punctuation- all things his teacher will be analyzing. But to him, it was just “fun” writing. What could have been a formal, anxiety-inducing experience for a child was presented as a low-risk, enjoyable task, due to the way writing instruction is approached in his classroom- through choice, interest, play, and discovery.

When I saw the topic, Notebook Time: Bringing Discovery and Play Back into the Writing Classroom as part of the #EdCollabGathering line up, I first thought it would pertain to elementary grades. The notion of approaching writing through play in grades 6-12 isn’t one that we run into every day. So I was excited to tune in and hear that Rebekah O’Dell and Allison Marchetti start their writing classes every day with 5-7 minutes of Notebook Time that is ungraded and risk-free.  The benefits of Notebook Time include creating routines and habits for writing, working on fluency and building stamina, and a creating a place for nurturing and celebrating writing victories, be they large or small. I love the ways in which Rebekah and Allison describe the act of “play” as it refers to Notebook Time: experimenting, trying on, writing through, emulating.

Students are free from the rules that have defined their writing experience in the past.


Image from Allison Marchetti & Rebekah O’Dell #TheEdCollabGathering, 2016

During Notebook Time, students are invited to explore writing using different entry points. Rebekah and Allison provided 4 examples of entry points, including Poems, Sentence Study, Data, & Images.  

  • Poems- Rebekah & Allison provide a poem and invite students to notice and try special craft moves, use the first line to generate their own poems, write about the poem’s topic in another genre, or write about anything that the poem inspires.
  • Sentence Study- Students play with sentence structures, based on mentor sentences.  This provides an opportunity for instruction in language, grammar, and mechanics.
  • Raw data- Information is provided in the form of statistics, data, charts, or graphs. Students interpret and write about the data in ways that connect math and writing. Rebekah and Allison share that this type of notebook play is the  kids’ favorite of the 4 and has sparked the most topics for future writing.
  • Images- Rebekah and Allison present images or photo essays that inspire responsive writing in a variety of genres.


To hear about Rebekah and Allison’s ideas in depth and view student samples related to each of the four types of notebook play, view their archived session at The Educator Collaborative. In addition, they discuss how Notebook Time provides a space for revision, which is an area of challenge for many of our students.  Rebekah and Allison provide a link to their session materials, including an entire Dropbox of Mentor Texts!  Thank you Rebekah and Allison for being so generous with your ideas and materials!

As a bonus, while watching the archived session, you’ll catch a glimpse of Allison’s classroom, in which it is evident that readers and writers are celebrated!  If you like what you see, check out their blog at and their NEW book Writing with Mentors: How to Reach Every Writer in the Room Using Current, Engaging Mentor Texts.


I hope you join the network of connected educators that are helping students find joy in writing, check out Rebekah & Allison’s book, and add your voice to the conversation! The book is in your court…




The Curiosity-Driven Curriculum: Identity to Inquiry #TheEdCollabGathering

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The Curiosity-Driven Curriculum: Identity to Inquiry  #TheEdCollabGathering

This series of posts includes learning and reflections from #TheEdCollabGathering, a day of online professional learning hosted by Chris Lehman and team at The Educator Collaborative on April 2, 2016.

“If school was more interesting, kids would learn more.”

Harvey Daniels and Sara Ahmed opened The EdCollab Gathering by challenging our thinking about the way we engage students in school. Daniels and Ahmed shared that children are naturally curious. Based on Susan Engel’s research (Curiosity and School, 2011), we know that at the prekindergarten age, kids experience an average of 26, and even up to 76, curiosity episodes per hour. Curiosity episodes were described as instances in which kids were asking or investigating.  By the time kids reach kindergarten the number of curiosity episodes drops to 1 per hour and by fifth grade, there are almost too few episodes to even count. Most children studied by Engel spent their whole school day without asking a single question.


Harvey Daniels & Sara Ahmed #TheEdCollabGathering 2016

“Kids are the most important part of your curriculum. Start there.”

Daniels and Ahmed challenged us to  consider how to breathe new life into kids’ innate curiosity and create a culture in which it is nurtured. How can this be done? Watch the archived presentation to learn more about:

  • Identity Literacy
  • Identity Webs
  • Wonder Walls
  • Wonders in My World
  • Recommendations for Read-Alouds


Daniels and Ahmed also call on us to think about the notion of grit, which is often referred to as something kids need to draw upon when faced with a challenging task. Why do we approach grit as something the child needs in order to get through the school day? As in, “If this child had more grit, he would learn more.” This mindset feels like one of deficiency. Daniels and Ahmed would like us to consider reframing this notion. As in “If school was more interesting to this child, he would learn more.”

To read more about tapping into student identity and using inquiry as a method for learning, check out the following resources:


The book is in your court…

Teachers as Learners in the Digital Age: #TheEdCollabGathering

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Teachers as Learners in the Digital Age: #TheEdCollabGathering

I clearly remember when I sent my first e-mail. When I first searched the web for resources that would help me become a better teacher. As a college student, I recall telling my parents that I couldn’t come home for the summer unless they got “The Internet.” I remember that extremely annoying sound when no connections were available (using dial-up, of course)! Back then, teachers learned and planned differently. My 19 year old self couldn’t begin to fathom how teachers would be able to learn and plan in 2016.

There was an occasional listserv or website you could learn from, but that was it. The majority of my professional learning came either from those I interacted with on a daily basis or the books I read. And, oh there were books! Mosaic of Thought by Ellin Keene & Susan Zimmerman; Reading with Meaning by Debbie Miller; The Art of Teaching Writing by Lucy Calkins. I soaked up their ideas like a sponge, and over time I even met all of these authors in person and got to see their teaching demonstrations (talk about magic!) through conventional conferences. Yet they all seemed very distant… these experts who wrote these books that were so influential in my teaching.

The type of learning that I just described is in stark contrast to #TheEdCollabGathering that Chris Lehman conceptualized and brought to life yesterday. He assembled a rockstar line-up of educators/ authors/speakers who presented live sessions that teachers could tune in to or watch on-demand from the archives.  These educators were able to INTERACT with the audience through Twitter, which is something that my young teaching self would never have thought possible.

I’ll share my learning from #TheEdCollabGathering in my next post.  For now, I’ll leave you with a few of my favorite books (or upcoming books that I just KNOW will become my favorite books) from the educators who presented yesterday.

No longer are these eduSTARS regarded as all-knowing experts who must live on another planet.  They are real people, like you and like me, who are in our schools, in our classrooms, teaching right alongside us, answering our questions, sharing our examples, favoriting our Tweets, reading our blogs, learning together.

The book is in your court…

This post is linked to DigiLit Sunday here . Thank you to Margaret Simon for providing this forum to celebrate Digital Literacy and reflections on #TheEdCollabGathering.

Personalized PD- #IMWAYR

Personalized PD- #IMWAYR


The main road and gateway to civilization!

4 days of being cooped up due to record-breaking snowfall has provided ample time to dive into the pile of books that has been accumulating since winter break!

My first choice- Personalized PD: flipping your professional development

If there is ever a time for personalized professional development, the time is now. Teachers and support staff are working under increased expectations with limited time to learn and grow as professionals.  We cannot afford to waste the time of any educator with one-size fits all professional development when we have the tools to personalize the learning experience, just as we do when we differentiate for our students.

I “met” Jason Bretzmann in a personalized PD session during EdCampVoxer in December.  When I learned that the Maryland State Department of Education had chosen this book for a book study spanning over the next few months, I immediately added it to my #MustReadin2016 list. EdCampVoxer was the prime example of personalized learning- sessions created the first day of the event by the participants, choice, collaboration, differentiation, and the flexibility to come and go as needed. I was living the principles that underlie the movement toward personalized PD and that are described in this book.

Jason’s group assembled an outstanding group of leaders in education to create this guide, including Kenny Bosch, Brad Gustafson, Brad Currie, Kristen Daniels, Salome Thomas-El, Dave Burgess and more.  You’ll also find vignettes by Kristen Swanson, Kristen Ziemke, Todd Nesloney, Joe Mazza, and many others. This group of educators has been using educational technology to accomplish the goals of personalized PD by flipping staff meetings, hosting EdCamps, and creating asynchronous learning communities.

You will read about both the strategies and the tools used to personalize professional learning by starting where each educator is and helping them to move forward.  As Jason writes, “The bottom line is they can’t end up where they started.” This concept is something that I have been wrestling with, and the examples provided here have helped me to refine my vision of how I can make the most of the face to face time we have with educators.

I hope you take the time to check out this resource! The book is in your court…

Personalized PD.jpg

#MustReadin2016 is a personal challenge to commit to reading books of your choice.  Visit creator Carrie Gelson’s site here for more information and for links to other #MustReadin2016 book lists. Visit Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers to participate in the #IMWAYR community.

Crawling Out of the Classroom

In everything that my students and I do together, we strive to find ways to use reading and writing to make the world outside of our classroom a better place for all of us to be

Literacy Lenses

Just another site

Katherine Bomer

The Journey is Everything: Writing & Teaching to Discover, to Essay, to Live Wide Awake

EdTech Bytes with Bormann

Ideas for integrating technology into a 21st-century classroom.

Ms. Victor Reads

Reflections on my life as a teacher.

Teachers for Teachers

Just another site

Ethical ELA

Reflections on Teaching English Language Arts


Two Literacy Teachers Learning and Sharing in the Blended Learning Classroom

Teachers As Innovators

Two teachers bringing research into classroom practice