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Monthly Archives: February 2015

A Handful of Stars by Cynthia Lord- #IMWAYR

IMG_4918Thank 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 connect their latest reading experiences, opening new possibilities for sharing the impact of books on our lives. IMG_5265I was introduced to A Handful of Stars by Jen Brittin, a valuable member of my PLN.  Jen blogs at At The Corner of Fourth and Excellence and has inspired my work as a literacy specialist in many ways.  When Jen created a book vine for A Handful of Stars, I was eager to jump on board-  even though I really didn’t have a clear idea of what a book vine was!

I learned that a book vine is a way to connect with others who are reading the same book. We read from the same copy of the book, mailing it to the next reader when we were done with it. Each reader left tracks of her thinking, so we could see the reactions of those who read before us.

IMG_6104 IMG_6107 In A Handful of Stars, Cynthia Lord shares the story of two unlikely friends- Lily- the granddaughter of a small town shop owner and Salma- a young migrant worker who spends her days harvesting blueberries. Lily works through her feelings as she begins to lose touch with one friend, while gaining another.  Lily’s dog Lucky brings Salma and Lily closer as they work to raise money for surgery to keep him from going blind. Lily learns many lessons during the story, and her grandparents offer guidance and words of wisdom.

One of the reasons that readers will appreciate this book is that it fulfills the mission of #weneeddiversebooks. Lily’s mother has passed away, and she never knew her father.  She is being raised as an only child by her grandparents.  Salma’s family moves back and forth, depending on harvest season, so she is constantly changing schools and homes. Many kids will identify with these situations and the feelings associated with them.

This book has great potential for teachers.  In writer’s notebooks, my students would capture lines from text that sparked their thinking or inspire them. Lord has sprinkled many lines worth capturing throughout A Handful of Stars. The Lift a Line strategy (from Notebook Know-How by Aimee Buckner) could be used to help students write notebook entries based on lines that speak to them.  Some of my favorites are included in the list below.  Any of these would make a great first line for a notebook entry and inspire some generative writing.

  • “Sometimes life is like a long road leading from one “if” to another.” page 1
  • “It takes all kinds of people to make a world.” page 19
  • “Different can be good… It makes you pay attention.” page 46
  • “Every little bit helps, and even the ocean is made up of drops.” page 23
  •  “Sometimes being with someone can make you feel lonelier than if you were by yourself.” page 56
  • “I’ve never done anything like this before. I’ve never even wanted to.” page 62
  • “Today I felt a little bit braver than I was scared. Just enough to tip the scales.” page 74
  • “Some things are magic between two people, but they fizzle when anyone else gets involved.” page 87
  • “People want us to come and work, but they want us to be invisible.”  page 94
  • “Sometimes understanding comes in little drops, and other times it rushes in like the tide, rolling everything over as it comes.”  page 120
  • “When you love someone, you want what they want.” page 128
  • “Maybe when we see things all the time, we stop really looking at them. And it takes an artist, someone who can look past the ordinariness, to remind us how special they really are.”  page 152
  • “I think almost is one of the hardest kinds of losing. Because you could see all the way to winning before that door shut.” page 167

I encourage you to obtain a copy of A Handful of Stars for your classroom library after it comes out in May!  Read more about how book vines work and get Jen Brittin’s take on the book, including exclusive information from the author here.

Can’t wait to hear what you think of A Handful of Stars!  The book is in your court…


Edcamps and Seinfeld- A Whole Lot of Nothing in Common

Edcamps and Seinfeld- A Whole Lot of Nothing in Common

I’ve started and stopped writing this post several times.  I’m stuck on an introduction because I have a feeling many educators might not know what an Edcamp is. So I should start by defining it, right? That’s where the problem begins.  It’s an indefinable experience.  Every Edcamp is different. I’ve tried to describe it to friends and family, but words do not do it justice.  Perhaps the best way to explain it is with this clip from Seinfeld.

Seinfeld has been named the greatest television program of all time by TV Guide and the second best written television series of all time by the Writer’s Guild of America. (Wikipedia) As you can see from this clip, the premise behind Seinfeld was that it would be a show about nothing. However, the show was a huge hit and so popular that it ran from 1989-1998. That’s right. A show about nothing ran for 9 seasons!

That’s what I feel like saying about Edcamp.  Essentially, it’s a conference about nothing (planned, that is). But it results in some of the best professional learning I’ve had in my seventeen years as an educator. After attending Edcamp Baltimore for 2 years, I joined the planning team for Edcamp Maryland, the first state run Edcamp in the US.


My colleagues from FCPS and I arrived early and had the pleasure of greeting those who came in to register.  We met educators from across the state of Maryland who had all given up their Saturday to attend a conference about nothing.  Jared Wastler kicked off the morning with a live #mdedchat while the session board was coming together. You can tell from the session board below that there were 4 presentation slots throughout the day and 5 choices for each time period.  The board was built in real time by participants at the EdCamp.  Related topics were grouped together.  Those suggesting the sessions put their Twitter handles on the board, but in an EdCamp, that does not necessarily mean that you are a presenter.  The idea is to gather people together who want to have a conversation and learn more from each other about a topic of interest.


 That being said, I do have a little secret to share.  When I attend conferences, of any type, I rarely pick my sessions based on the topics.  I choose based on the presenters or people involved.  I want to be around people who stretch my thinking. People whose educational philosophies are in line with mine. People I admire and respect. This brings me back to Seinfeld.  I used (something new I learned about during the Smackdown, by the way) to reduce the length of the following video, so you’ll have to use the hyperlink for this clip.

In the video, Jerry asks, “Who are the characters?” George names himself, Jerry, Elaine, and Kramer as the major players in the show.  And let’s face it, if any of those 4 were in attendance at Edcamp, I’d join their session!  I know who they are, what they stand for, and, most importantly, their body of work.  So when I go to Edcamp and see a name on the session board that I know I will learn from, I’m the first in the room.

Yesterday, I learned a great deal from Jon Harper, a valued member of my PLN that I hadn’t yet met face to face.  I enjoy reading Jon’s blog, as it makes me think about the purpose of education and how the little things in life can be viewed through a different, more important lens. Jon inspired us to be reflective and to share our thinking with others.  But I didn’t just learn from Jon in that session.  There was a rich discussion of adult blogging, student blogging, Edmodo, and even ebooks.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what I learned at EdcampMD.  There are several things you can do to reap the full benefits of the experience:

  • Search the hashtag #edcampmd or #edcampfeb7
  • Read the notes taken by participants. A shared Google Doc was created for each session.
  • Learn more from The Edcamp Foundation.
  • Read the blogs written by participants (linked below)
  • Join the conversation- Grow your PLN on Twitter
  • Find an edcamp near you.

Can you imagine what we would have missed out on if Seinfeld hadn’t pitched his idea for a “show about nothing?” It turns out that what started as a little conference about nothing in Philadelphia in 2010 has paved the way for personalized learning. Don’t miss the opportunity to write your professional learning script.

Did you attend #edcampmd and blog about it?  Please link up below!

What Will Your Legacy Be? Celebrating Over a Decade as a Literacy Specialist

This week represented a turning point in my professional life.  I said goodbye to a job I have had for over a decade.  However, it’s not quite right to describe it as just a job.  I know that the fellow literacy specialists in my PLN will agree with me when I describe it as a passion, a way of life.

I created this blog to celebrate books and the way they connect us as teachers, students, and human beings.  I have always celebrated and will continue to celebrate reading.  But I always wonder… are my students becoming REAL readers?  Do they have a connection with books that will last long after I am gone from their daily lives?

As the goodbye cards began to appear on my desk, I was so proud to see a theme emerge. From teachers, from parents, and from the kids. I think the theme will be evident from the pictures below.IMG_5224-0IMG_5214-0

One of the things I love best about being a literacy specialist is that teachers often ask for advice for read-alouds.  I’ve been able to recommend The One and Only Ivan, Rump, Wonder, Along Came Spider, Out of My Mind, The Honest Truth, Each Kindness, Freedom Summer, and many, many others over the years.

One of my recent suggestions was One for the Murphy’s, a book that really touched kids’ hearts. This clever 5th grader used a One for the Murphy’s theme to create this good-bye card for me.  The best part is the picture of me holding a “Book of Books,” which represents all of the recommendations I’ve handed out over the years. Now, I have never taught this particular student, but I have taught her teacher. Today, I can celebrate the far-reaching influence that literacy specialists have.IMG_5219-0

One of the last moments that I had with students was a celebration of the progress they have made on their 40 Book Challenge.  As they were leaving, I invited them to take a book so that they could continue working toward their goals.  The response?  “Just ONE?”  As you can see from the picture, these students left with plenty to read. This is something else I will celebrate-  knowing that I have continuously put books in kids’ hands and hopefully inspired them to reach their reading goals.
IMG_5211I was also reminded of the influence we have as parents who model a love for reading. Today, for a class gift, I had to ask my eight year old son for a bit of advice that he would give his teacher who is expecting her first baby this month. He was on his way to practice, so I asked my husband to text me with his response. (Please excuse the poor grammar.  This is how we text!)

IMG_5262And so this is how I know that my legacy includes inspiring a love of reading. I see tracks of influence on the kids that I teach, the kids that are taught by teachers that I work with, and in my own children. Truly…something to celebrate.

CELEBRATE This Week: LIJoin the celebration every week on Ruth Ayres’ blog here.

Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan- #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.


It begins with a boy and a book: The Thirteenth Harmonica of Otto Messenger.  It continues with a tale, “A Witch, A Kiss, A Prophecy,” complete with kings and queens, witches and curses, lies and deception. As young Otto reads the tale, the lines between reality and fantasy become blurred. A refrain rings out:

“Your fate is not yet sealed.

Even in the darkest night, a star will shine,

A bell will chime, a path will be revealed.”

This refrain holds true throughout the entire novel. Pam Munoz Ryan artfully weaves together the stories of 3 children: Friedrich, Mike, and Ivy. Each section is introduced with a new harmonica score.

Brahms’ Lullaby– Friedrich is a 12-year-old boy who was supposed to have died at birth.  Instead, his mother dies, and he has to come to grips with his imperfections. Living in Germany in 1933, Hitler’s policies threaten to divide Friedrich’s family. When he is forced to leave his home, he also has to leave his treasured harmonica behind.

America the Beautiful– Mike, an orphan in Pennsylvania in 1935, is doing everything he can to stick with his younger brother Frankie, the only family he has left.  Mike’s musical talent opens doors, and the boys find themselves in a rags to riches situation that can be ripped out from under them as quickly as it was bestowed upon them.  Once again, the harmonica is at the forefront of the story as the brothers try to find a home.

Auld Lang Syne- Ivy Lopez, the daughter of migrant workers in Southern California in 1942, suddenly has to leave her friends and school to move with her family yet again. To make matters worse, Ivy’s brother enlists in the army, and she is placed in a segregated school. But Ivy is an exceptional harmonica player, which enables her to face these challenges.

All three main characters are bound together by the spell of music and the mystery of the harmonica. You will find yourself reading faster and faster to get to the point when the three stories merge.

But don’t read so quickly that you miss

  • the beautiful language with which Ryan composes
  • the complexities of the characters and how they respond to personal challenges
  • the twists and turns of the plot due to the influence of historical events in each time period
  • the ways in which music bridges culture and circumstance

I haven’t read a book quite like Echo before.  Pam Munoz Ryan skillfully shifts between genres and time periods. At the end, readers will discover how Otto, Friedrich, Mike, Ivy, and the harmonica are ultimately connected. This book is not to be missed!

Why now?  We Need Diverse Books is a campaign to address the lack of diversity in children’s books.  All of our kids hope to see characters like themselves in the books available to them. Pam Munoz Ryan discusses the diversity in her books and how her own background contributes to them in this video. I’d love to hear your thoughts about Echo, Ryan’s body of work, or diverse books in the classroom in the comments. The book is in your court!

Note: Echo is on my #MustReadin2015 list.  To see the other books on the list, check out this post.

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