All The Things I Have Not Done

It is time for me to make a confession.  It is time for me to come clean.  Because it is easy to speak about all of the things we do in our 7th grade classroom, it is easy to share ideas, to give advice, to hopefully help others engage students more.  And yet…some of those things that I love the most we are not even doing.

We haven’t started blogging yet.  This monumental cornerstone of our classroom has not found its hold.  It lurks on the horizon, taunting me, reminding me of its presence, and yet, we are not bloggers.  We haven’t had many discussions of how to change education, how to share our voice with the world, how to make a change so that the schools we go to become better with us in them.  We have not been geniuses or innovators.  Nor have we Skyped much.  We have not taken the system apart only to put it back together.  And I am ok with that.  For now.

Because while we have not done all of those things, we have slowed down instead.  We have gotten to know each other, we have read picture books, we have book shopped for half a class.  We have written stories for our eyes only, the classroom so quiet I barely dare move.  We have talked about what it means to be a reader, a writer, a human being.  We have stopped when we needed to instead of forged on.  And the ease at which we now operate in our classroom is profound.  The conversations that slowing down has allowed me to have with my students are irreplaceable.

So while we are not global students.  While we are not innovators.  While we are not out there changing the world, I know that it is only a matter of time.  That my students will get to experience those things when they fit into our day.  When we feel the need to take our voices further than our own four walls.  I know it will happen, it just has not happened yet.  And I am ok with that.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.



Not Just for Little Kids – What Picture Books Have Taught My Middle Schoolers

I never thought of leaving picture books behind.  Of giving them away.  Of hiding them away in a closet, only to be brought out when the need was immediate.   To save them for a certain lesson or day.  When I packed up my 5th grade classroom my beginning picture book collection came with me.  No questions asked.  And when I unpacked my boxes of books, out they came, proudly on display, ready to be read and shared and remembered.    And since then the collection has only grown, only multiplied, and their hands keep reaching, and their eyes keep reading.  You can say we are a picture book classroom.

Yet, it is not just the books themselves that have made us love them.  It is not just the fact that they are on display, nor that they are oh so inviting to the students.  You cannot just buy a few picture books and then wait for them to do their magic.  The books are not enough, even if they a brilliant start.  For the real change comes in how we use them.  How they take center stage on the very first day and never leave.  How they allow us to build our community, to strengthen our trust, to have incredible hard conversations, and also allow us to laugh.

You can say that picture books are the thread that bind us altogether and we would say that you are right.  And yet, when I share this love some think I am crazy.  That picture books are too easy for 7th grade and not at all what they need.  That they need advanced texts that they can analyze and work with, that will test their skills of comprehension and push their thinking.  And so to those that do not quite understand.  To those that may doubt their place.  To those that think that picture books are just for little kids, I offer the following.

Picture books taught my students that being a better person can sometimes happen too late to fix a situation.  That every word matters and so does every action.  That stories do not always have a happy ending and that we make a choice every day to be better human beings or not.

Picture books taught us that someone finding their courage to be their true self in a world that wants to stop them need our protection and friendship.  That even though someone may choose differently than we would, does not make them less than.  Does not make them somehow wrong.  even if we don’t understand why.  Even if we cannot relate.

Picture books taught us that sometimes innocent illustrations are not so innocent at all and carry far more damage than can ever be expected.  Our job then is  to notice and pause and discuss and then do something about it.

Picture books taught us to trust ourselves.  To fight for our own beliefs and to have confidence in what we discover.  That the world has room for more than one right answer and that we all deserve to be heard.

Picture books taught us that reading should move us.  Whether to laugh, to think, to yell out in injustice.   They taught is that we still have much to learn and much to investigate.  That sometimes all we need is a short story for us to follow a path into a larger one.  That the world is filled with stories waiting to be discovered if we just start to pay attention.

Picture books taught us that reading does not have to be hard to be worthwhile.  But that we can handle the hard when it happens.  That we do not have to struggle through complex texts but can instead access them in smaller pieces and that doesn’t make us dumb, or bad, or any other label we may have had before then.

So when people act surprised that I would ever hand a picture book to a 7th grader, I ask them to try it.  To build a community that believes in the power of picture books and uses them for good.  To create a community where all reading counts, not just the assigned texts, not just the grade level books.  Where students are encouraged to read for fun, to read to learn, to read to challenge themselves and their opinions.  Where picture books help us become better human beings, not because the teacher told us we had to work on it, but because within their pages we saw something to strive for.

So yeah, picture books may be for little kids as well.  But for the big kids, for the ones I teach, they are an entirely new world that doesn’t judge, that doesn’t frustrate, that doesn’t make them hate reading.  That helps them become what we all hope they do; better readers, better thinkers, better writers, but most of all, better human beings.  All in the power of picture books.

PS:  Want ideas for which picture books to have in your classroom, here you are!

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

The Worth of You (1).jpg

Lynda Mullaly Hunt made me cry yesterday.  Right in the middle of a panel session on the community of the Global Read Aloud.  I had held my tears back all throughout as the authors had shared what it means to have their book read and loved by so many children on a global scale.  I had held my tears back as they had talked about the ways that their books had changed the lives of others, how children had found hope, courage, and determination through their pages.  Yet when Lynda told me that the slide showing a globe was for me because I had changed the world. I cried.  And then Lynda cried, and I sat there in awe because I  never set out to make a difference, I simply wanted to read a book aloud to my students and have them share their thoughts.

So I write this post not to gloat in the Global Read Aloud glory.  Nor to say that I am anything special, but more so to tell people that your ideas have worth.  That your ideas may make a difference to someone else.  That those ideas you carry inside need to be spoken because you will never know what type of difference they may make.

And yes, it is scary to speak a dream aloud.  And yes, it is scary to let others in .  And yes, it is scary to be proud of what you have created.  But it is worth it.  Even if your idea changes the course for one other person, or even if just changes yours, it will never change anything if you do not speak out loud.  If you do not share.

I never set out to make a difference, I wish I could say I had.  But it happened, if even just for my own students as they fell in love with a book year after year and wanted to make the world a better place.  Because I dared to speak aloud.  I dared to think that perhaps someone somewhere would see the beauty in this so simple idea.  And so the Global Read Aloud will continue to make a difference for so many kids, for so many teachers, as we gather in this time of terrorism, uncertainty and a world determined to be dark at times.  We need books to connect us because the world seems to be trying to tear us apart at times.  We need books to remind us that we are more alike than different.  We need books and experiences and emotions so that we can remember that we are humans first and that whatever difference we may have can be overcome.

I never set out to change the world, and I am not even sure that I have.  But I had an idea that I dared speak aloud and now cannot imagine a world without it.  Share yours; change the world.


I Was Born A Reader

Some days I feel like I was born to read. To fall in love with stories.  To think deeply about the books that I carry in my heart, to get so consumed by the tale of someone else’s life that there is nothing that can penetrate my wall of immersion.  On other days, reading is the furthest thing from my mind as I watch my house fill up with dirty clothes, my children’s arms eagerly awaiting another hug, a song, some help.  Reading moves further away when the to-do’s pile up, the stacks of paper start to scatter, and my brain cannot seem to slow down.   That is when I am my most vulnerable as a reader.  When the world is too busy and sitting down with a book seems to be too much of a luxury.  I lose touch with the power of reading, but not for long, never for long.

So I continue to come back to books whenever I can.  I get through the things that have to get done so my ears can hear my to-be-read pile calling.  It is not hard for me to find  book, it is hard for me to choose which one next.  It is not hard for me to find a moment of quiet, where I don’t have to do anything but read, after all my kids go to bed early. My life has taught me that I am a reader, even if I am not reading.  That I am a reader even when I abandon a book, struggle with its meaning,or have no idea what to read next.  I am a reader because I have had so many amazing experiences with books that I cannot imagine my life without them.

Yet, how many of our students have that same experience?  How many of the children we teach know in their core that they are readers?  How many have experienced the freedom of choice in books that we have as adults?  How many of them have experienced what it means to abandon a book simply because they wanted to?  How many of them feel like finding time to read is an investment worth making because they know their soul will feel better?

It seems our classrooms are set up to cover curriculum, which in its simplest way makes sense, after all, we cannot be teachers if we do not teach.  Yet, within that curriculum we need to create reading experiences that allow students to fall in love with reading.  To read with wild abandonment because it is what they want to do, not just have to do.

We need to give them enough incredible experiences with books so that they can become readers at their core, and not just because their teacher told them so but because they know it will better their lives.  We need to give them enough moments with books that they choose so that when their reading slows down, when they meet a text that does not entice them, they will not give up on reading but rather know that they are in a lull and that this too shall pass.  That being a reader means that we don’t always read but we cannot imagine a life without it.

I was born a reader, or so it seems, because my mother never told me what book to read, my teachers never told me my level, and I was never ashamed to admit when I read slowly.  The least I can do is offer my students the same thing.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.


Well Hello #NCTE15

For a few years I have sighed every November when it seems like every literacy genius that I follow have headed to NCTE and then shared all about it.  For a few years I have thought that maybe I would go, but then when it comes to be time, there never seemed to be enough time.  And so I haven’t.  And I have been fine, but boy ,have I felt like I was missing out.

So thanks to the amazing Lynda Mullaly Hunt who thought that maybe we should propose a session on the Global Read Aloud.  Thanks to all of my amazing Nerdy Book Club friends who told me that this was the best conference ever, thanks to my district for believing fervently in professional development, and thanks to Skype for believing in me and the GRA, this is the year I get to go.  And I am counting down the days like it is a countdown to Christmas.

So where will I be?

On Friday, I get to be on a panel with Franki Sibberson, Ruth Ayres, Bill Bass, Ann Marie Corgill, Katie Muhtaris, Katherine Hale, Colby Sharp, and Kristin Ziemke.  Yup, I am so honored to be presenting along these amazing minds on Keeping Reading Authentic and Student-Centered with Technology at 11 AM.

Later that day, I get to do my 3rd ever Ignite.  And I am nervous; how can you not be when you only get 5 minutes to share what you are passionate about?  But at 2:30, I am going to try.

Saturday at 8 AM, it is then to the session that started it all; The Global Read Aloud.  I will be the one pinching herself when I get to sit with Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Sharon Draper, Kate Messner, Jenni Holm, and Katherine Applegate, as well as Michelle Kedzierksi as we talk about the project and more importantly the community that it creates.

Now for some reason none of these come up with my name in the app, which actually feels rather symbolic, after all, I cannot believe that I get to go. I cannot believe that I get to learn and be inspired finally at this conference.But trust me, they are happening, I will be there, and I will be grinning from ear to ear.

So if you see me, and I look pretty much like me, please say hi.  Please tell me which book you are reading, tell me what you’re up to.  I will be the one amazed at simply being there, surrounded by so much passion.



Great Picture Books to Use for Notice and Note – All Signposts

Yesterday I posted my final picture book post for all of the signposts in the amazing book  Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst.  It has truly been awesome finding picture books to go along with the strategies that can be used for many grade levels and through so many lenses.  I thought it would be nice to gather all 6 posts here for easy reference and also to highlight a few rockstar picture books that can be used for more than one signposts, that way if you have a limited budget for book buying (don’t we all), you can start with these few and still cover a lot.

Here are the links to the original posts, make sure you check out the comments as even more picture book ideas were shared there.

Contrast and Contradiction

Aha Moments

Words of the Wiser

 Tough Questions

Again and Again

Memory Moments

And here are some of the best picture books that can be used with multiple signposts:

The Creatrilogy by Peter H. Reynolds featuring Ish, The Dot, and Sky Color will cover almost all of the signposts.  All you have to do is add You and Me and The North Star and you can teach all 6 signposts using picture books that Peter H. Reynolds and Susan Verde has created.  How is that for the power of amazing picture books.

You Are Not Small by Anna Kang showed up on several lists.

So did a lot of Eve Bunting’s books, Fly Away Home is one of my favorites.

Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson breaks my heart every time I read it and was mentioned several times.

The Yellow Star by Carmen Agra Deedy also was mentioned several times.

Which books are you must have’s?  Which books are the ones you can use for more than one signpost?  Please share your ideas.