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Monthly Archives: January 2015

The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier- #IMWAYR


Thank you Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee & Ricki at Unleashing Readers for hosting It’s Monday! What are you Reading? Readers across the blogging community share their latest reading experiences, opening new possibilities for sharing the impact of books on our lives.


I have finally had the time to finish The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier.  Once again, my son started it with me and finished it before me. I mean, lights-on-at-night-when-you-are-supposed-to-be-sleeping kind of reading. Kid-tested, parent-approved.

Teachers- if you are looking for a mentor text for teaching students how to spin a story or weave a web of tales together, The Night Gardener is the book for you.  Part of the draw is its creepiness.  The kids who are reading ghost stories and vampire tales that you wish would read something with a little more literary merit will perk up when they see the cover of this book.  Molly and Kip are two children trying to make their way in the world without their parents.  They find work as servants with a family of four: Bertrand & Constance Windsor and young Alistair and Penny. Something sinister is at work through, and the family- along with Molly and Kip- falls further into despair and ruin.Memorable characters and an ancient curse keep the pages turning.  Storytelling is valued and plays a big role in the book.  The characters learn powerful lessons about what can happen when selfishness and greed take over.

Jonathan Auxier has a gift for bringing readers into his stories and taking them on a memorable journey.  I enjoyed learning more about him through his website, including this little gem for us as readers and writers.  “Whenever I start a new book, I try to put together a soundtrack that makes me feel the way I want the story to make me feel. It’s a valuable tool, because at some point I become sick of my own book, and the songs help remind me what I’m aiming for.” (Auxier)  The soundtrack for The Night Gardener can be found here. I’m always fascinated by the process by which authors create mood and tone, and Auxier is the first I have found to share examples of using a soundtrack as part of his creative process. I’m putting Auxier’s Peter Nimble and his Fantastic Eyes on my list to read next.

I can’t wait to hear how this book speaks to you and your students!  The book is in your court…


No More Independent Reading Without Support- #IMWAYR

2015/01/img_49181.jpgThank you Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee & Ricki at Unleashing Readers for hosting It’s Monday! What are you Reading? Readers across the blogging community share their latest reading experiences, opening new possibilities for sharing the impact of books on our lives. 17916753 I’m a firm believer in the fact that teachers are learners.  I’d love to see more professional books reviewed in the blogging community.  If you are concerned about the state of independent reading in your classrooms, buildings, or districts, No More Independent Reading Without Support is the book for you!  It’s a quick read, and highlights not only what we shouldn’t be doing in schools, but the behavior that should replace it. Common practices, such as DEAR and SSR are examined.

How much time do your students actually spend reading?

If shaping real readers is the goal, students have to have time to apply their learning in appropriate texts. If we over-instruct and under-apply, we defeat our main purpose. Miller and Moss worked with teachers to find instructional time that could have been spent on reading. How much time did they find? “Across the grades teachers were able to find an additional 60 to 125 minutes a day!” (Miller and Moss, 2013) The extra time for reading was created by streamlining calendar activities, morning announcements, and transitions, as well as by changing practices within the reading block itself.

Miller and Moss encourage the use of Guiding Principles for Instruction. These include purpose, authenticity, choice, and explicit instruction. The use of these principles can help eliminate reading activities which do not include reading at the heart of the tasks.

It may seem like common sense to make sure kids are actually reading. However I encourage you to take a hard look at your daily instruction and tally the minutes that students actually spend reading. It may surprise you.

How can No More Independent Reading Without Support help you as a reading professional?  You are invited to continue the conversation in the comments.

The book is in your court…


#MustReadin2015 is a personal challenge to commit to reading the books you choose this year.  Anyone is welcome to join in!  Visit creator Carrie Gelson’s site here for more information and for links to other #MustReadin2015 book lists. 

It’s taken a while to whittle this list down, but I wanted to be very selective with my #MustReadin2015 picks!  I hope you find some great titles to add to your reading lists!


I’m trying to read more nonfiction this year, and these books come highly recommended by our reading community.



There are so many great titles to choose from that I went with a combination of recommendations from friends, authors I admire, and themes that spoke to me.







Novels in Verse

It is also one of my goals to branch out and read more novels in verse.  I was inspired by how much I enjoyed Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson.


Professional Resources

 I have a bit of an addiction to professional reading. I have discovered many of the authors below through Twitter, and I just know that their books will satisfy that craving to continue learning and growing. 59 Reasons to Write225122461791675321807024

And last, but not least,  I can’t wait to get my hands on Notice and Note for Expository Texts by Kylene Beers and Bob Probst.  I’m not sure if it will be published this year, but it will move to the top of my list when it arrives.  Here is a sneak peek of Kylene and Bob’s thinking! Since I don’t have a picture of the cover, we’ll just have to settle for this picture of Kylene, Bob, my colleagues, and me at the NCTE convention.


I hope this list provides some new suggestions for you.  You are invited to continue the conversation by commenting! The book is in your court…

Tips & Tools for Helping Students Set Reading Goals


At the beginning of every school year, teachers around the world all have a common goal: to know their students as readers. They are conferring, listening, surveying, interviewing, etc. to get a sense of student interest and ability.  We all know that in order to get better at reading, students have to spend time reading.  Kylene takes it a step further in her Tweet from September 1, 2014: “More reading helps create better readers. More choice helps create passionate readers, Let’s create both.”  Easier said than done!  How do we put this theory into practice? Below are some tips and tools to help you help kids become more passionate about reading.

Tip: Find out as much as you can about your students as readers. One of the most worrisome situations is when kids have books in the home but don’t read them.  It is one thing to avoid reading because you feel you can’t do it, but it is another to have access but choose not to.  My students have reported that they have hundreds of books at home but are reading in the single digits over summer break and even during an entire year. This is a 911 situation!

Tool: Reading Surveys- Look for a survey that includes the estimated number of books in the home as well as the number of books students read over the summer and the number of books read last year. Shannon Clark has an excellent survey here that is based on the work of Donalyn Miller and Nancie Atwell. I know that my work is cut out for me when my students come from a literacy rich environment but aren’t interested in engaging in reading.

Tip: Help readers set goals.  I’m not talking about reading for incentives and prizes.  I’m talking about the real type of goal-setting.  The type that you can find adults engaged in on Goodreads, Twitter, or in the blogging community.  When kids receive rewards for reading, we are sending the wrong message.  Reading is its own reward.  Celebrate by offering more reading time and providing kids with books of interest.

Tool: The 40 Book Challenge- Using Donalyn Miller’s ideas to set an expectation for reading in your classroom can help inspire and motivate students to read. However, it’s not about the number!  I have been working on my #MustReadin2015 list and have been getting stuck on “how many…” Donalyn reminds us that it’s not about the number and certainly not a competition.  If you are skimming over this section, thinking, “yeah, yeah, I already do this,” STOP and go directly to The 40 Book Challenge Revisited. If we were giving out award for the top blog post of 2014, this cautionary post by Donalyn would get my vote. Here is an excerpt:

“The 40 Book Challenge is a personal challenge for each student, not a contest or competition between students or classes. In every competition or contest there are winners and losers. Why would we communicate to our students that they are reading losers? For some students, reading 40 books is an impossible leap from where they start as readers, and for others, it’s not a challenge at all.” Donalyn Miller, 2014

Tip: Confer with all students regularly. A common concern of teachers is effectively managing independent reading.  They are worried that kids are reading books that they haven’t read.  They are at a loss for what to say and do during reading conferences. We need to reframe this thinking.  It can be an advantage to confer with a child about a book that you, the teacher, haven’t read. Just as we teach the writer, not the writing when conferring in writing workshop, we need to teach the reader, not the reading when conferring with kids about books.

Tool: Readers Front and Center by Dorothy Barnhouse– This book changed my thinking about conferring with kids. Dorothy explains the role of the teacher, the student, and the book when she states, “Conduct research conferences. Our job is to get to know how our students think as they read. Books are our indispensible partners in this work.” (Closely Reading Our Students, 2014)  Dorothy has taught me to focus on the reader’s thinking and what they are working on as readers. We should not be quizzing them to uncover the plot or elicit a summary. We should follow their line of thinking to help them apply strategies as they develop interpretation of text.

When we understand how students are operating as readers: their reading habits, their reading stamina, and their application of reading strategy, we can better help them set goals and select books that match their interest and purpose for reading.

My final tip is to walk the walk. Set reading goals for yourself. My students set goals for reading over winter break, which included the books pictured below.  A tool that can help you set your reading goals is Carrie Gelson’s #mustreadin2015. The rules are simple; list the books that you will commit to reading in 2015.  It is a personal challenge.  There are no incentives.  It is not a competition.  It’s just the environment we want for our students as well.

How are you helping kids become passionate about reading? What kinds of books are you recommending for your students? I’d love to continue the conversation in the comments. If you have tips, tools, or book recommendations, please share. The Book is in your Court…




It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 1-12-2015


Thank you Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee & Ricki at Unleashing Readers for hosting It’s Monday! What are you Reading? Readers across the blogging community share their latest reading experiences, opening new possibilities for sharing the impact of books on our lives.


Boy and dog travel
Learn the value of friendship
That’s the honest truth

I received a copy of The Honest Truth at the 2014 NCTE convention.  When I started reading it with my son, I got my first clue that this wasn’t your ordinary book.  My son stayed up late every night and finished the book before I did.  I heard gasps, “oh-nos,” and, “Mom, you won’t believe this!” to which I responded, “Don’t tell me!” each time. Kid tested; parent approved.

     “They read because they want to, not because I make them.”  

Donalyn Miller, The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child

I strive to help kids find the right book so that they are reading, not because I asked them to, but because they want to, as Donalyn expresses.  The Honest Truth is the kind of book that kids will CHOOSE. They will be captivated by Mark’s adventure- full of lessons he learns about life alongside the best companion a boy could have, his dog Beau. It’s the kind of book where you HAVE to find out what happens. You care about the characters that much. The issues are complex and inspire discussion.  Should Jessie tell what she knows?  Should Mark have taken Beau along on his journey?  Should Wesley call the authorities?  Should Mark have left home at all?

Teachers will be equally as excited about the potential of Gemeinhart’s writing as a mentor text.  After I finished the first read (I just HAD to find out what would happen!), I reread more deliberately, uncovering elements that I had glossed over the first time through.

  • Mark and his best friend Jessie, express themselves through haiku.  You’ll see my son’s first try at haiku above. He’d never heard of haiku before.  He’s learned about it in a meaningful context, not through a worksheet.
  • When you turn the page after chapter 1, you are faced with chapter 1 1/2, told from a different character’s point of view.
  • Mark is sick, but the primary setting is not in the hospital, in fact far from it.  Readers can follow Mark’s progress, which starts with 263 miles to go and is updated on the cover page for each chapter.
  • There is significance in what readers may perceive as minor details: Beau’s mismatched eyes, the broken pocket watch, the mountain.

I was in the room when my son read the last page. “Ohhhh.  Now I get it,” he expressed as he closed the book. Gemeinhart hooks the reader right up to the final page, the final line, the final word.  Now that’s they kind of book that can get kids reading because they want to, not because we asked them to.

I can’t wait to hear how this book speaks to you and your students!  The book is in your court…

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 1-5-2015


Thank you Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee & Ricki at Unleashing Readers for hosting It’s Monday! What are you Reading? Readers across the blogging community share their latest reading experiences, opening new possibilities for sharing the impact of books on our lives. 

I have benefited greatly from book recommendations from the blogging community.  My One Little Word for 2015 is share.  In the spirit of that OLW, I’m sharing my first round of book recommendations.   Since it’s my first time, I think it’s fitting to look back on 2014.

I’ll keep this post brief since these books are well known by our community. Had I not read your blogs  I would have missed opportunities to read books that were so good that I couldn’t put them down.  Books like We Were Liars and The Impossible Knife of Memory.  I would have missed out on the unique and beautiful language that Jacqueline Woodson spoke through in Brown Girl Dreaming. I wouldn’t have enjoyed The Night Gardener and Revolution with my eight year old. And my five year old wouldn’t have gotten to hear the true story of Ivan.  For these suggestions, and many more, I thank you, my teachers thank you, and my students thank you.


Favorite Young Adult Fiction of 2014:

We Were Liars by e. lockhart

We Were Liars

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

The Impossible Knife of Memory

Favorite Middle Grade Fiction of 2014:

The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier

Revolution by Deborah Wiles




Favorite Middle Grade/ Young Adult Nonfiction of 2014:

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

BrownGirl Dreaming


 Favorite Nonfiction Picture Book of 2014:

Ivan The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla by Katherine Applegate

ivan the remarkable true story if the shopping mall gorilla



In reflecting on my reading in 2014, I’ve noticed some gaps, especially in the areas of graphic novels and novels in verse.  I’ll be looking to all of you for suggestions in these areas!


One Little Word: 2015


“A single word can be a powerful thing. It can be the ripple in the pond that changes everything. It can be sharp and biting or rich and soft and slow.” Ali Edwards on One Little Word

As I thought about the possibilities for my One Little Word of 2015, I reflected on my intentions for creating this blog.  My first One Little Word idea was listen.  We know how important it is to know our students, our colleagues, our families. We can’t possibly know their desires and wishes without listening. We can’t help them choose the next book, reflect on their learning, or understand their needs unless we listen.  So listen seemed like a good choice at the time.  However, when I really thought about it,  I realized that I have already been listening.  I have been listening so much that I haven’t been doing my part to give anything back, to enter the conversation, to share.

Sharing is not on my daily to-do list. Sharing is the part of the reading or writing lesson that gets cut because we run out of time (or mismanage it.)  Suddenly, I saw examples of our innate need to share in many places:

  • In Professional Settings: NCTE 2014 participants were encouraged to “Share Your Story.” Attendees wore different buttons that symbolized their values, such as “literacy as everyone’s job” or “time for collaboration.” The buttons were open invitations to initiate conversations about shared values with complete strangers. I can’t tell you how empowered I felt to share by attending sessions and meeting those whose voices I have been listening to for years. I was encouraged to share my story.
  • In Schools: My teaching colleagues requested (yes, requested) a third book club to read the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project’s Units of Study in Opinion, Information, and Narrative Writing guide for this quarter.  The units are dense and challenging to read, yet full of professional learning opportunities for teachers.  So why do they need this club?  Because they want to share. They share their interpretation of lessons, student work, successes and failures. They refine practice by sharing. I’ve even overheard them calling it their support group. Teachers are begging for this time to learn together.
  • In the Home: My son and his classmates have started participating in a reading circle on  It’s like a Goodreads site for kids. He can log progress, make recommendations, blog, and see what his peers are reading. Tonight, he spent his time writing reviews and posting them to his reading circle. Even eight year-olds recognize the need to share, to be active participants in communities.

So I created this space for sharing, a place to make sure I let that one little word be my guide for the year. My favorite part was adding the “Blogs I Follow” to my site.  As I did so, it was a reflection of who I have listened to in 2014, the educators from whom I learn every day: Stacey, Anna, Betsy, Dana, Tara, Kylene, Fran, Kristine, Kate, Chris, Donalyn, Colby, Carrie, Pernille, Julieann, and many, MANY more. (Yes, I feel like I’m on a first-name basis with all of them; that’s how influential they have been through their willingness to share.)

I commit to adding time to share to my daily to-do list.  I commit to providing forums for teachers to learn by sharing. And I commit to making sure that students have opportunities to share each and every day.

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


Two Literacy Teachers Learning and Sharing in the Blended Learning Classroom

Teachers As Innovators

Two teachers bringing research into classroom practice