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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.

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.

Summer Reading- Are You Doing Your Part to Ignite the Flame? #IMWAYR

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Summer Reading- Are You Doing Your Part to Ignite the Flame? #IMWAYR

Like many other families, we just headed off on a summer vacation.  I asked my eight year old to choose 3 books, to which he replied… “Only 3?! Last year I took 20.” So we ratcheted up the number significantly, and he was on his way.

My six year old was a little more reluctant, but he dutifully packed up his books.  He chose 3 books that he has read many times before, and to my surprise, I found him reading one silently before bed the first night.  This is a big step for him, as he usually wants an adult to read to him.

He also grabbed a set of Harry Potter reference books, which are well outside of his ability to read right now.  However, since there is interest, we don’t want to discourage him. He was so excited to find someone to read these books with him. As soon as we arrived, he asked an older child who lives next door, “Do you like Harry Potter?” The reply? “I never really got into reading that much.” Alex promptly put the books away and moved on to other things. Sigh.  How do we make sure every child finds the joy in reading?

Pernille Ripp shared some ideas in her recent post: But the Kids Aren’t Reading- 20 Ideas for Creating Passionate Reading Environments. Pernille believes (and I do too!) that passionate reading starts with us.  One of her 20 ideas deals with teacher recommendations:

“Teacher recommendations.  I start many classes with the 1 minute book recommendation sharing why I loved a book or why I bought a book.  Then I place it on a ledge and walk away.” (Ripp, 2015)

One minute.  Spotlight a new book, make it available for students, and walk away.  Easy enough, right?  Here’s the catch.  You have to be reading the books that your students would like in order to make the recommendations. Know your readers.  Know your books. Make the match.  I have two suggestions for you, books that are part of my summer reading list.  We’ll get to those in a second.

Another suggestion from Pernille?

Embrace mature books.  These are the books that some of our most reluctant readers will finally pick up.  The ones with the swear words, or the ones with the little bit more mature story lines.  Be selective, set your standards, but don’t shield all readers from mature books.  These can be “that” book for some of our kids who otherwise will never read.” (Ripp, 2015)

Thank you Pernille for including this in your top 20. Our older students will read books that contain content that we may shy away from. However, these books tackle important issues and are widely available to kids in book stores and libraries.  I admire Pernille’s openness in including mature books in her classroom and honoring student choice.

Below are two “mature books” that you may like to add to your summer reading list.


Girls Like Us is a book about two high school graduates, Quincy and Biddy.  However, Quincy and Biddy are not your typical grads. In Quincy’s words, they are “differently abled.” Author Gail Giles shared that, “I taught special ed students like Biddy and Quincy for twenty years, and I’ve been wanting to tell their stories- stories of courage, sometimes pain, and certainly triumph- for a long time.” (Giles, 2014) The girls are not friends (not even close)! Yet they are thrust together and have to rely on each other to navigate life outside of school for the first time.  They find kindness in some, but are also faced with the harsh realities of those who want to do them harm. Quincy and Biddy will take you on an emotional roller coaster, and you will root for them the entire way. Readers will learn important lessons about how we sometimes unintentionally stereotype others and treat them differently based on judgements we have made. The powerful message in Girls Like Us has been recognized, as it made the Long List for the 2014 National Book Awards in the category of Young People’s Literature. For more on where Quincy and Biddy’s stories come from, check out Gail’s website.

If I Stay is not a new book, but I missed it somewhere along the way! Gayle Forman shares the story of Mia, a young lady whose entire life changes in an instant. The whole book takes place in 24 hours and 7 minutes, and you will read it just as quickly. Mia has to make the most important decision of her life…literally.  But she will get you thinking… Is it really under our control to decide if we stay or if we go?  Forman creates well-developed, dynamic characters who draw you in immediately. One of my favorite characters is Gramps. He has Words of the Wiser (Notice and Note Signpost) written all over him, especially on pg. 181.

This version of the book included an interview with Gayle Forman.  She leaves us with this advice.  “Write. Write. And write some more. And read. You absorb everything you read, whether you are aware of it or not.” (Forman, 2009) I’m keeping Gayle’s words in mind, for myself as a reader, my kids as readers, and our teachers and students as readers.

Know your readers.  Know your books. Make the match.  Help every kid find the book that makes the difference. Reading is contagious, but it as just as easily extinguished.  Alex was trying to get someone he looked up to to read Harry Potter with him.  Had the older boy I mentioned earlier considered himself a reader, he could have helped keep Alex’s spark lit just a little longer.

What books will you recommend to your readers this summer? I’d love to read about them in the comments. The Book is in Your Court…

For more examples of what others are reading, be sure to head over to the link-up at Teach Mentor Texts, hosted by Jen Vincent.


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…

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