Be the change, being a teacher, Literacy, Reading, Reading Identity

On Tier 1 and 2 and 3


For years, I couldn’t understand why my own students weren’t growing as readers.  Why the same names showed up at our data meetings as kids who were failing to progress.  Why some kids made the yearly growth and others sat stagnantly.   I was trying, using the framework of balanced literacy, yet I didn’t see how my own lack of knowledge, my own lack of tools, was directly leading to them not growing.  How, although I had the components in place, there was so much more I could be doing for all of the kids. Instead, I looked outward hoping that surely someone else; special ed, reading specialists, ESL support, someone must know how to reach these kids.  How to teach these kids.

I am a classroom teacher. Every day, I am responsible for not just the literacy lives, but also the well being of more than 100 students.  Every day, I am expected to provide the very best instruction that I can to every child that walks through our door.

Despite their mood.  Despite their situation.  Despite their past interactions with our educational system.  Despite their life circumstances that may or may not stand in their way.

I am the facilitator of what is meant to be meaningful literacy experiences that will suit all of their needs.  Every day.  Every class. Every child.

My job is no different than so many others.  This is what I became a teacher to do, I am supposed to provide my students with what we know works within literacy instruction: time to engage with meaningful reading and writing, including time to read and write, supported and explicit instruction, personalization to meet their needs through one-on-one conferring or small group instruction.  Utilizing an inclusive classroom library filled with books that I have read, coupled with visits to the school library (with a certified librarian).  I am supposed to develop my skills so that every child has a chance to not just survive but succeed within our classroom.  That’s my job.  That’s our job.

And yet, in many classrooms, kids are not getting these foundations of literacy.  They are not getting time to read.  They are not surrounded by books.  They are not being provided personalized instruction to suit their needs.  Instead, they are forced to sit in front of computers who quiz them on their skills, read through basal texts that allow for little to no personalization, told that only books that fit their level is allowed reading material.  Taught by teachers who are trying so hard yet are meeting resistance every step of their way, whether from the systems, the decisionmakers, or even their own lack of training.

And then we wonder why so many kids end up in tier 2 or tier 3 interventions?

So this year, I will continue to examine my own practices as the teacher of Tier 1.  I will make sure that the instruction I am providing is effective, focused, and research-based.  I will make sure that my foundations are in order and also well-taught so that kids have a chance to grow in our classroom.  I will disseminate my own practice before I look outwards.  And I encourage other teachers, other decisionmakers, other schools to do the same.  If too many kids are in intervention, then foundations are missing in our classrooms.  If too many kids are not making growth, then we look at what is happening with us first.  And we look at it from a systems place.  Are systems in place to support kids on their reading journey?  Are systems in place to helps kids develop their reading identity?  Are systems in place to teach the joy of reading and not just the skills?  Which systems stand in their way of success?  Which systems harm rather than help?

And that’s where we start. Not with pull-out, but with better in class instruction.  Not with intervention, but with reexamination.    With a commitment to the best classroom instruction, we can provide, supported by the administrative decisions that are being made.  Perhaps a lofty dream, but a dream worth pursuing nonetheless.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first 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.






being a teacher, Literacy, new year, Reading

Our ELA Curriculum Map for 7th Grade 90 Minute Block

As some of you may know, we are moving from a 45-minute block of ELA time to a 90-minute block.  I cannot tell you how excited I am for this to happen.  To actually have more time to dig in, to have fewer students so I can know them better, to be able to pull small groups more often and really support student growth – yes, please!  But with this change comes a lot of decisions.  We want to make sure students are engaged and challenged well within the 90 minutes.  We don’t want it to drag on, we don’t want it to be lecture.  So as the year starts to come closer, the ideas and aspirations we have had are starting to take shape and I thought it would be nice to share them here, in case others need some inspiration.

Last year we decided what we believe when it comes to our literacy work together and this is what grounds our decisions.  While the chart below is just the overarching theme, our original document discusses things much more in depth, such as the need for equitable practices and for creating opportunities for students as changemakers.

The overarching beliefs we function in are:

If middle school learners need… Then we will commit to…
Empowerment Giving them choice
Read/write every day Give them time
To have a voice Discussion/authorship/ownership
Developing/understanding their identity Reflection/guidance/exposure/structure
See connections to themselves and others Incorporate global/local topics and connect to other classes
Adult role models

Peer role models

Read/write/think/discuss with and in front of students

  • Opportunities for student learn with and from each other.
  • Teachers model/share their love of reading/writing in their own life.
  • Teacher is part of the classroom reading/writing community
  • Exposure to mentor texts
Visible/continuous growth Mini-lessons, explicit/targeted instruction etc., exposure to many genres and formats (balanced literacy), and goal setting.
Need personalized learning communities Small group instruction and conferring

My tentative schedule for our 90 minutes together looks like this:

  • 10 min = independent reading

  • 2-3 min = book talks

  • 15 min = mini-lesson (can be read aloud)

  • 20-25 min = work time (reading practice, conferring, small groups etc)

  • BELL BREAK – 3 minutes
  • 10 min = Grammar/mentor text work/free write

  • 15 min = mini lesson focused on writing or speaking

  • 20 min = work time (writing practice, conferring, small groups etc)

  • 5-10 min = read aloud/picture book read aloud/share/closing

Yesterday, I had the chance to sit down with colleagues and spend some time tentatively mapping out our literacy year.  Inspired by the maps in 180 Days by Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher, we thought providing ourselves with an overview of the year meant we would have a better feel for what to plan for.

This map is intended for 45-minute readers workshop followed by a 45-minute writers workshop.  We wanted to make sure that students had two different times to read within the 45 minutes, one chunk of time that was focused on reading for pleasure without any extra “work” attached to it, and one chunk of time where they would be working more on the skills of reading, most often within their own self-chosen texts, but sometimes in a text chosen by us.

We also wanted to make sure that students have time for meaningful embedded grammar instruction, as well as time to free write.



We are a standards-based district and so we have 9 separate ELA standards.  These are not assessed every quarter but are instead assessed at least twice throughout the year so that students can see their own growth.  Here are the standards we have 5327283641122816.png

The students have not started yet, so all of this is aspirational.  I will keep updating it as the year progresses but thought I would share.

There have been a few books that have really shaped my thinking for the upcoming year.  They are

Troublemakers: Lessons in Freedom from Young Children at School by [Shalaby, Carla]

Troublemakers by Carla Shalaby

180 Days by Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle

A Novel Approach by Kate Roberts

Being the Change by Sara K. Ahmed

Write Beside Them by Penny Kittle

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Mechanically Inclined by Jeff Anderson

Notice and Note by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst

Passionate Readers by myself – weird to say your own book but this book holds my reading beliefs and also my ideas for how to reach our goals.

The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller

Book Love by Penny Kittle

The Reading Zone by Nancie Atwell and Anne Atwell Merkel

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first 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.

being a teacher, first day, first week, Reading, Reading Identity

Questions to Assess our Classroom Library Before Back-to-School

I have been spending some time in my classroom these last few weeks. Getting ready,  getting excited.  At the end of last school year, I moved all of our bookshelves, rearranged the furniture, and tried to update this little space that hopefully becomes our space as it is filled with students.  Tried to create some sort of new space that would shape the experiences we are bound to have; places to gather, places to pull away.  Slowly, but surely, it is starting to come together.

The tables stand ready, the ideas are too, but the books? They are not ready.  Not yet. They beckon to be looked at, sorted, re-displayed, and yes, even gotten rid of.  New readers mean new book adventures ahead, new needs arising for the kids I am entrusted with, new relationships waiting to happen.  Weeding through my classroom library is always a must before the beginning of the year.

Books are an extension of our beliefs and so when students enter into our school or classroom libraries, they become the very first indicator of who we are and what we believe in.  They are a direct reflection of which type of reading experience we want o create with our students.  Which type of teacher we are.  What we hold dear, what we value.  This is why book displays cannot and should not be haphazardly put together.  This is why we must look at the books we bring in, the books we offer up for students to experience, and see which experience they are actually creating.

So to go through our classroom library, I ask myself the following questions starting with the fairly simple to the more in-depth.

How do the books look?  Which books are falling apart and need to either be thrown out or replaced?  Which books have really outdated covers that are preventing them from being read?  How about text size and font?  For books that I know would be read but might not be because of “outside” factors, I create a replacement wishlist.

How do the bins look?  Just like the books, some of our bins get fairly beat up, do they need to be replaced?  Relabeled?  Moved around?

How is our overall organization?  Because our library is one based on genres and sub-genres, these are changeable, meaning if I feel like we have a large collection of some books perhaps they need their own sub-genre?  Perhaps a genre is not being read and needs to be reorganized?  That also includes which bookshelves the bins are on, are they being read where they are or do they need to be moved somewhere else?

How is our checkout system?  Ours is a simple one – paperbacks you just grab, hardcovers you give me the dust cover with a post-it with your name on it and I file it away until the book is brought back.  Will this still work for the students I have?

How will I introduce our library?  Students will bookshop on the very first day of school with piles of books awaiting them on the tables but how will they be introduced to our library?  This year, as in past years, it will be an actual lesson on book-shopping, yes, even in 7th grade, and an exploration of different genres as we start our to-be-read list.

Will this book be read more somewhere else?  Sometimes when we have a book abundance problem, books are simply not being discovered.  So looking through and pulling books you wish students were reading but they aren’t and then handing them to another teacher may just get that book back in circulation.  This is also a great way to create space for incoming books in your library because chances are you will be adding more books this year.

Whose stories are being represented in our library?  And whose stories are not?  Where are my book gaps, which genres of books or authors do we not have a lot of?  Can all children find windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors to quote Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop.

Not just whose,  but how are people’s stories represented?  Are we only representing the Native experience as a thing of the past?  Is the African American experience only represented through slavery, Civil Rights, or police brutality?  Are all the books featuring everyday things featuring white characters?  This is an ongoing assessment that needs to be attended to with every book purchase we make.

Do we have harmful representation?  Back to school is also a good time to be on the lookout for problematic text.  Knowing what is being questioned in the wider literary world is really important and provides us with a chance to learn.  I think about books like Little House on the Prairie or even newer books that come out that may not be healthy to have in our libraries.  I turn to people like Debbie Reese and Edi Campbell to guide me in this work.

Which books are you blessing?  Critically evaluate which books are on display whether it is first in a bin or on an actual shelf.  Whose experiences are you highlighting?  Whose voices are you urging others to read?  I take a lot of time pulling books and displaying to offer our students a varied reading experience from day one.  I want them to see the possibilities in our classroom library of what types of reading experiences they can have and that starts with all of the books enticing them.

As summer winds down and the school year beckons, I am excited to meet the kids that will soon become part of our family.  I am excited to help them have meaningful experiences with text that will help them in their reading lives.  I am excited to see who they are and how they will grow this year.  This work starts in our library, in what is the heart of our classroom, so it needs to be ready for all of the readers that are coming our way.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first 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.

being a teacher, being me, Reading, Reading Identity

On Not Being a Reader…Yet

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She tells me she doesn’t want to go to first grade.  That she no longer wants to be a first grader.

This child who loves school.

This child who loves her teachers.

This child who has been beaming since the day she realized that after kindergarten came first grade, another year to learn, another year to grow.

And yet, here she is, declaring that for her school is no longer where she wants to be.  So I ask, what changed?  Why not?  And she gets a little quiet, sinks a little bit into my body, snuggles up as if the secret is hard to carry and tells me quietly, “I don’t know how to read…”

Because in her mind, all first graders know how to read.  Because in her mind all first graders know how to look at a book and automatically unlock all of its secrets just like that.  And why shouldn’t she?  Hew twin brother, 21 minutes younger, is already deciphering words, putting letters together to uncover the mystery of the page before him.  Asking me what this word means.  How to spell this word.

And yet she sits in front of a page still working through her letter sounds, trying to remember the foundational blocks before she pieces them together.  She sits in front of a page and instead of seeing opportunity she sees something that she cannot conquer, that she has not conquered, despite now being an almost first grader who supposedly should have conquered it.

I realize that once again, our well-meaning intentions, those benchmarks we put in place to ensure every child is a success has claimed another temporary victim whose self-esteem now relies on a part of her that her brain simply isn’t developmentally ready for.  Because that’s it.  There is nothing wrong with her capabilities.  Nothing wrong with her skills.  Nothing wrong with that smart brain of hers, other than that it is not ready.  Not ready right now, no matter how many district mandates tries to say she should be, but she will be.

And so I wonder how often do we lose kids within our standards?  How often do we add labels because of a rigid system that tells us not only how each child should learn but also when and then lets us decide that a perfectly fine child is now behind.  How often do we, because of outside forces, lose a child’s place in school because a chart, a book, a system, told us that the child was lost.

I will tell you this, much like I told my Ida, she is a reader.  She is a reader who is figuring it out.  She is a reader who is growing.  But more importantly, she is a child.  A child who will read when she is ready.  Who is ready for first grade despite the benchmarks reminders of what she should be able to do.  She is ready and until the first day of school, and for every day after, we will snuggle into bed together with a book, reading the pages together, developing at the pace that was intended.  Not the one dictated by something that will never know the nuances of my child.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first 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.

being a teacher, books, Literacy, Reading

How to Easily Do A Book Talk


One of the pillars of our reading community is the daily book talk.  While I used to do them once in a while, I was spurred on by the wisdom of Penny Kittle to do one every single day, which I have now fully embraced for the past few years.

So in the last few years, I have done a book talk almost every single day right after we finish our independent reading.  It takes less than two minutes and is fairly simple.  I used to plan them out much more but realized that it added another level of work to my already jam-packed day and that it didn’t seem to make a difference to the students whether I did a pre-scripted one or one that was more spur of the moment.  So this is what our book talks look like now.


  1. Pick the text you will book talk – note this can be a chapter book, audiobook, a collection of short stories or whatever you feel like blessing as Linda Gambrell reminds us.
  2. I like to book talk a variety of new books I have read as well as older books that haven’t been discovered yet. One place I look to for inspiration is what my students have recommended in the past.
  3. Decide your angle:  Are you book talking it because you read it and it was amazing?  Because you abandoned it and need someone to prove you wrong?  Because you added it to the library but haven’t read it?
  4. Prepare your visual.  I like to project the cover of the book so that students can easily write down the tile.  I also put any genres abbreviations on the slide and whether or not is a more mature book.
  5. Have the physical book ready to hold up and hand to someone or place on a designated book talk shelf or display.

During the book talk:

  • Keep it short and sweet.  I tend to say a few sentences about the book and why I liked it/abandoned it/purchased it and then read either the first page, the inside flap or the back cover.  I love these teasers as they are already made for us.
  • Have the book ready to hand out.  The only time I break this recommendation is when I just finished a book and I want to book talk it to all of my classes.  Then I try to find extra copies beforehand, such as from our school library.
  • Students should have their to-be-read list out which is located either in their readers’ notebook or using the Goodreads app.  This is a routine expectation we start with the very first week.


  • Start to transfer ownership of the book talks to students fairly early on, you should not be the only one book talking a book.  I love using the 30-second book talk idea to help students become more comfortable with the format and also ensure that everyone participates.
  • If I am the one doing the book talk there is only one given, if it is students, then there can be up to three depending on their length.  Again, this is short and sweet, not the actual teaching point of the class.
  • If many students want to book talk their book, consider making it the teaching point and dedicate a lesson time for it or have them do a speech about their favorite book.
  • Keep an anchor chart or some sort of visual of which books you have book talked, not only does it provide a reminder to students about the books shared, but it also allows you to ensure that you are providing inclusive book talks that do not just fall under one genre, cultural heritage or some other category.
  • Place book talked book the same place so that students know where to find them.  We have a book tree that serves as everyone’s place to recommend books so that is where they go.
  • Check to see if there are book trailers available.  I still think the book trailer for The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen has convinced more students to read the book than I ever have, and I love that book.

I have loved doing daily book talks and also getting them from students and I now see them as a vital component of any thriving reading community.  When we book talk a book it is the invitation into a relationship with that book for all of our students, what a powerful teaching tool that is.


being a student, being a teacher, Literacy, Reading, Reading Identity

On Reader Identity and Its Importance

I was asked recently why the need to focus on reader identity.  Won’t that develop normally if we just focus on skills and all of the things we do within our reading communities?  In the past, I would have said, maybe, perhaps reader identity develops no matter what we do, now, however, my answer would be a little more complicated than that.

Yes, reader identity develops in whichever way with whatever we do in our classrooms.  This is how we end up with the difference in readers.  Those who love to read, those who tolerate it as a means to a purpose, and those who cannot wait to tell us just how much they hate reading.

But to develop a meaningful reader identity, one that goes beyond the obvious questions of are you a reader or not, we have to have teaching opportunities where students can explore what their reading identity is to begin with and then chart a specific course to further explore it and grow.

That means we spend an awful lot of time self-reflecting, discussing and also setting goals so that every child has a chance to answer thoughtfully, who are they as a reader.  So that every child can leave our year together having a fuller sense of what it means for them to be a reader, particularly outside of school and our set reading environments.  This discovery is what creates lifelong readers, but it won’t just happen for all if we don’t make it a point to actually bring it into our teaching.  If we don’t actually plan for the development of all reading identities within our time together.

So where do you start?  Well, I start with a survey (it can be found here or here ) not just so I can get to know the kids but so that they can start getting to know themselves.

Then we confer: what are their reading goals?  No longer do I set the goals for kids, instead they reflect on the relationship and needs they have within reading and then set a goal.  One that is meaningful and personal to their growth.  Some need a lot of help uncovering what that is and others seem to know right away what they need to work on.  We use the 7th-grade reading challenge to help them goal set as we discuss that for some quantity of reading is a great goal, while for others it is much more about habits and developing who they are.

And then we start the work.  The reading, the lessons, the experiences that create our reading community.  Woven throughout all of that though is the need to go back and reflect on the goal they have set and to help them process their own growth.

So every time I confer.

So every time we reflect.

So every chance we get, I ask, “What are you working on as a reader?” and let their answers guide our conversation.

Those who set a goal just to set a goal are quickly helped to try to come up with a goal that is more meaningful to them.  Those who set a goal that doesn’t make sense are quickly prompted to dig deeper.  And those who set a goal that they have little way to reach on their own, well, that’s where our teaching comes in.

It is within the constant conversation always circling back to the question, “Who are you as a reader?” that our students can start to piece together their answer. That they can start to understand the identity that they carry as a reader.   That answer goes beyond their book likes, their reading minutes, their skills.  It speaks to how they handle books, now just how much they read, but when they read, how they select what to read, and what they do with it once they are done.  How they view reading within the broader scope of their lives and who they will be as readers one they leave us.

So whenever I am asked, why bother with student reading identity, I think of the students who started out simply telling me that reading was not for them but left us knowing so much more.  That reading was for them if they found the right book, had the right place and took the time to read.  That reading was for them because they had found meaningful moments within the pages of a book the previous years.  That they perhaps would even consider reading outside of class now.  This is where we see the change.  This is where we do the work.

PS:  Yup, I am still stepping back and doing less.  This post felt like I should write it so I did.  Who knows when the next one will come.