being a teacher

Happy 2 Years Passionate Readers

While I have a love-hate relationship with Facebook, one of the features I do love is the memories that it reminds me of. Often they are funny things my kids said or simply looking at their faces from when they were younger. But today, this popped up…

A memory unlike many other – the birthday of my book, Passionate Readers, and probably one of the most nerve-racking moments professionally that I have ever had. After all, who knew whether this book which I poured my heart into, this book which my students were a part of as always, this book with its plea to continue to do the work that so many have done before me to create meaningful reading opportunities for all kids no matter their reading journey, was simply going to be worth anyone’s time?

Now, two years later, and looking back it is still incredible when someone tells me they have read the book. Especially when they are not related to me. That the ideas in it helped them support the work they were already doing, that it has helped others navigate the journey we all walk, and that it has helped me continue to learn more about the wonderful world of reading. I am so grateful.

So in order to celebrate the birthday, I would like to select two recipients to receive a copy of the book – either the Audible version or the print version. All you have to do is fill out this form and I will select two winners randomly Tuesday, August 27th. This contest is open to the world.

Thank you to all who found the book helpful, who have been a part of the Facebook group who have been a part of the book studies, the conversations, the work that has surrounded this book and its hope for all kids to feel that reading has some sort of value to them.

Fill in this form to enter to win.

being a teacher, new year, picture books

My Favorite Back to School Picture Books for 2019

One of my favorite parts of our classroom is our use of picture books to create community, to settle into routines, to get to know each other, and so much more.  This means I am always searching for great new picture books to share during those first few weeks and why not share those.  Some of these are new, some are older, but here is a discussion of what I  will be sharing and why.

We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins will be our first day read aloud (I think) because it is funny and also because we can talk about some expectations we may have when it comes to our community.  When we can laugh a bit together, it helps ease some of the anxiety that there inevitably is wrapped up in the first (and sometimes many) days of school.

Consent is something I really want to weave throughout the year because there are so many aspects to it that impacts our students.  That’s why we will use Don’t Touch My Hair by Sharee Miller to lead us into a conversation about consent as modeled by Elizabeth Kleinrock.  

Being an immigrant and a child who moved a lot means that there were a lot of new days at schools.  As we start our identity work, The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson and Rafael Lopez is used as a mirror text for me, something that speaks to a part of my identity because I have the name teachers have to think about how to pronounce, because I didn’t speak the language, because I never knew who would sit with me and what they would think of my food.  

I was so excited about the new Pigeon book to come out and this one is perfect for discussing emotions regarding going to school.  In The Pigeon Has to Go to School by Mo Willems we get to see how Pigeon feels about going to school which may mirror the feelings of some of our students as well.  This is, thus, a great conversation starter about how school makes us feel as we start to think about identity.

Independent reading is a cornerstone of our classroom and so using How to Read A Book by Kwame Alexander and illustrated by Melissa Sweet will fit perfectly in with the conversation about books and how they impact us both positively and perhaps even negatively.  This will be the invitation into how we book shop.

The story of football player and reader, Malcolm Mitchell, is one that I share every year with students and so reading his picture book The Magician’s Hat  is the logical next step.  It is always interesting to see a few kids start to let their guard down about reading books because of him.  

Inquiry is at the heart of our year together in my plans, so I want to use Laura Vaccaro Seeger’s great new picture book Why to discuss what it means to pursue answers and ask many questions.  I like how the book also shows that sometimes there are no answers but there always more questions.

Another picture book to use as we launch inquiry is Does it Fart: A Kid’s Guide to the Gas Animals Pass by Nick Caruso & Dani Rabaiotti illustrated by Alex G. Griffiths. This new picture book is a great way to show how a single question can offer a lot of information and how we can navigate all of that. It is also funny, which is a nice juxtaposition to some of the heavier work we will be doing.

What do we need when we write? I may teach 7th graders but that doesn’t mean that they embrace writing or even know what to add in to their writing, so Also an Octopus by Maggie Tokuda-Hall and Benji Davis will be a great reminder to the writing process.

Because I haven’t met my students, this is a tentative list. A few of these I will for sure use, some I may or may not, and then are many others that I may use after I meet the kids. There are so many amazing ways to start a conversation, courtesy of the picture books that are created. I cannot wait to uncover which ones we need.

And then we launch into Memoir and Personal Essays where the books I am sharing are on a another list that can be found right here.

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, new year

A Few Ideas for the New Year That I Am Trying

Every year, a few new ideas surface over summer that I just cannot wait to try. A few ideas that make me even more excited for the kids to come, if that was even possible. These ideas are not tried and tested yet, how can they be since summer still beckons, but I thought I would share them anyway in case they are ideas that maybe others want to explore as well? Or perhaps you want to share some of your own ideas as well? Either way, here are a few things happening in my head and in our classroom, room 203.

Ready-Set-Go conferences. These conferences are nothing new, but I have never done them at the middle school level. The concept is simple; offer up a 15 minute time slot ( or longer if you can) to every family that would like to meet with us before the year starts in order to give us a sneak peek into their child’s hopes and dreams. This is not for us to talk, but for us to listen as we meet the families that will be impacted by their child’s school experience with us. I also am pondering offering up “open office” time at a local coffeeshop for those who do not want to go into the school – thank you, Mindy, for that idea. I cannot wait to see how many are able and want to take this opportunity.

First writing unit is all about writing identity. While I do a lot of work with the kids surrounding reading identity, our exploration into who we are as writers has been piecemeal in the past few years. Not this year, our entire first exploration is an inquiry into who they are as writers, being mindful of privacy and how comfortable they are sharing anything, and picking up their journey wherever they are. This will center around personal essays/memoir and also feature a portfolio rather than one finished product. We will go slow, and hopefully, develop trust for writing instruction to truly be centered around not just the needs of each child but also how they hope to grow. And, it will take the time it takes.

Writing Circles. I was thrilled when I learned about the use of writing circles as a way to develop authentic writing partnerships in the book Comprehension & Collaboration by Stephanie Harvey and Harvey “Smokey” Daniels. Now, I want to implement this great idea into our writing throughout the year. Centered on the same concepts as literature circles, writing circles offers each child a unique opportunity to write with others around the same topic, or in the same format, writing alongside each other offering up critique and feedback throughout the process. This is trust based and so the students will get to select their first writing circles to see how they work for them and then I will help them adjust as we go. I am hoping this will provide students with a more natural collaborative group throughout the year that can help them grow as writers, rather than only having a few opportunities throughout the year to work with others. I will probably write more about this as I go.

Pairing book talks with author videos. Every day for the first month, I do a very short book talk every day in the hope that students will find great books to read. (After the first month, students start to do them as well, but they continue all year). This year, after our quick book talk, I will show a short video of the author speaking about the book, their writing process, or just being interviewed in general. This will serve a few purposes; students will see what the creators look like and hopefully connect with their work on a deeper level, seeing authors speak about their books can generate further excitement, and also, representation matters. When I am searching for author videos, Youtube or are great places to start, I am further reminding myself that we should be highlighting the works of underrepresented authors and creators. With older works, I will search for audio recordings.

Supplies for all. I have always had extra supplies ready for kids, but in the past they had to ask for them because I didn’t really have space for them anywhere. Not this year, after heading to the Dollar Store, I am ready with several hundreds of pencils, erasers, post-its, markers, glue etc and they will be set out for the students to just grab when they need. No more needing to ask the teacher, just get what you need, bring it back if you remember, and then get to work. Most kids won’t need them, some will need them a lot, and others will need them once in a while and I am okay with that.

Group writing. We offer up a free writing prompt every day at the end of class, so that kids get a chance to either work on writing of their choice or do the prompt displayed, this is a way for them to continue to develop their writing and also dive into topics that they want to write about. This year, I am purposefully adding in opportunities to write as a group on Friday’s, I am hoping this practice will strengthen their writing circles as well as they will create together. (Writing will take many forms – acting out, drawing, and other multi-media expressions will also be included).

Incorporating an often overlooked history focus. I used to do a meme a day on our morning slide, which most of the kids found mildly amusing, but realized that the morning slide that greets kids is yet another opportunity to highlight the important work of historical figures that may have been overlooked in some of their lives until now. So every day, along with my welcome, will be a historical fact that abut an event or a person that they may not already know. On Fridays, we are also incorporating a small segment called Overlooked History where I use videos to start a discussion about historical events and people such as the Doctrine of Discovery, The Navajo Code Talkers, Henrietta Lacks, Japanese Internment Camps and many others.

While there are many more ideas being explored this year, these are just a few that I am slowly developing in order for them to feel naturally embedded into our classroom culture. I am hoping that this year, once again, is a year filled with questions, curiosity, and also work that means something beyond “just” reading and writing. I hope that what we do will matter more than just the grades, but time will truly tell.

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

10 Upcoming Picture Books I Cannot Wait to Read Aloud #PB10for10

I wanted to publish my post about the picture books I plan on using with my students at the beginning of the year, but I don’t have 10 selected yet, not even close, I have 4, because I haven’t met the kids yet and so I don’t know which books we will need just yet. So instead, I thought I would throw a spotlight on a few picture books that I am so excited are coming into this world. These are the ones I have pre-ordered so I will not miss them when they are published. Perhaps you have heard about them too or not, but here they are in random order.

In this empowering ode to modern families, a boy and his father take a joyful walk through the city, discovering all the ways in which they are perfectly designed for each other.

Release date: November 5th, 2019

Tap, twirl, twist, spin! With musical, rhyming text, author Valerie Bolling shines a spotlight on dances from across the globe, while energetic art from Maine Diaz shows off all the moves and the diverse people who do them. From the cha cha of Cuba to the stepping of Ireland, kids will want to leap, dip, and zip along with the dances on the page!

Release Date: March 3, 2020

Feeling different, especially as a kid, can be tough. But in the same way that different types of plants and flowers make a garden more beautiful and enjoyable, different types of people make our world more vibrant and wonderful.

In Just Ask, United States Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor celebrates the different abilities kids (and people of all ages) have. Using her own experience as a child who was diagnosed with diabetes, Justice Sotomayor writes about children with all sorts of challenges–and looks at the special powers those kids have as well. As the kids work together to build a community garden, asking questions of each other along the way, this book encourages readers to do the same: When we come across someone who is different from us but we’re not sure why, all we have to do is Just Ask.

Release date: September 3rd, 2019

As a little girl, Teresa Carreño loved to let her hands dance across the beautiful keys of the piano. If she felt sad, music cheered her up, and when she was happy, the piano helped her share that joy. Soon she was writing her own songs and performing in grand cathedrals. Then a revolution in Venezuela forced her family to flee to the United States. Teresa felt lonely in this unfamiliar place, where few of the people she met spoke Spanish. Worst of all, there was fighting in her new home, too—the Civil War.

Still, Teresa kept playing, and soon she grew famous as the talented Piano Girl who could play anything from a folk song to a sonata. So famous, in fact, that President Abraham Lincoln wanted her to play at the White House! Yet with the country torn apart by war, could Teresa’s music bring comfort to those who needed it most?

Release date: August 27th, 2019

Riley wears whatever clothes feel right each day. On Monday, Riley feels shy and wears a bunny costume to school. On Tuesday, a scary trip to the dentist calls for a super hero cape. For a trip out with Otto and Oma, a ball gown is the perfect outfit.

This charming picture book is a gentle exploration of self-expression and source of encouragement for being true to oneself despite the expectations of others.

Release date: August 27th, 2019

Mars has a visitor.

It likes to roam…



and collect.

It explores the red landscape―
crossing plains, climbing hills,
and tracing the bottoms of
craters―in search of water
and life.

It is not the first to visit Mars.

It will not be the last.

But it might be…
the most curious.

Release date: October 29th, 2019

M is for Melanin
shining in every inch of your skin.
Every shade, every hue.
All beautiful and unique.

Each letter of the alphabet contains affirming, Black-positive messages, from A is for Afro, to F is for Fresh, to W is for Worthy. This book teaches children their ABCs while encouraging them to love the skin that they’re in.

Be bold. Be fearless. BE YOU.

Release date: October 1, 2019

Harpreet Singh has a different color for every mood and occasion, from pink for dancing to bhangra beats to red for courage. He especially takes care with his patkahis turban—smoothing it out and making sure it always matches his outfit. But when Harpreet’s mom finds a new job in a snowy city and they have to move, all he wants is to be invisible. Will he ever feel a happy sunny yellow again?

Release date: September 3, 2019

Bear just wants to water his flowers, but Rabbit needs to know: why? Bear is looking forward to a peaceful night of stargazing, but all Rabbit cares about is: why?

As the two friends spend time together through spring, summer, and into fall, Rabbit persistently and simply asks Bear why, encouraging the reader to figure out for themselves the reason for each question that Bear patiently answers, over and over again. . . until there’s a question that he has no answer for.

Release date: August 13th, 2019

Unicorns! You love them, but how much do you really know about them? Join Professors Glitter Pants, Sprinkle Steed, Star Hoof, and Sugar Beard, plus their trusty lab assistant, Pete, as they reveal mind-blowing unicorn facts never before available to the public! For example:

*  Buttercup Sparklecheeks was the first unicorn to trot on Pluto!
*  At one time in history, there were dino-corns!
*  One unicorn accidentally made it rain waffles for a week!
*  Unicorns have giant slides inside their homes!
*  Rare and exotic unicorns include the mer-corn and the hamster-corn!

Release date: September 3rd, 2019

At the mountain’s base sits a cabin under an old hickory tree. And in that cabin lives a family — loving, weaving, cooking, and singing. The strength in their song sustains them through trials on the ground and in the sky, as they wait for their loved one, a pilot, to return from war.

With an author’s note that pays homage to the true history of Native American U.S. service members like WWII pilot Ola Mildred “Millie” Rexroat, this is a story that reveals the roots that ground us, the dreams that help us soar, and the people and traditions that hold us up.

Release date: September 17, 2019

Writer, activist, trolley car conductor, dancer, mother, and humanitarian Maya Angelou’s life was marked by transformation and perseverance. In this comprehensive picture-book biography geared towards older readers, Bethany Hegedus lyrically traces Maya’s life from her early days in Stamps, Arkansas through her work as a freedom fighter to her triumphant rise as a poet of the people.

Release date: August 13, 2019

The creators of Pink Is for Blobfish are back, and they’ve brought 17 of their most revolting friends: there are slippery, slimy snot otters, gulls that projectile-vomit on command, fish that communicate via flatulence, and chipmunks that cultivate healthy forests by pooping a trail of seeds wherever they go. But there’s more to these skin-crawling creatures than meets the eye, and as zoologist Jess Keating explains, sometimes it’s the very things that make us gag that allow these animals to survive in the wild.

Release date: October 29th, 2019

With her new backpack and light-up shoes, Faizah knows the first day of school is going to be special. It’s the start of a brand new year and, best of all, it’s her older sister Asiya’s first day of hijab–a hijab of beautiful blue fabric, like the ocean waving to the sky. But not everyone sees hijab as beautiful, and in the face of hurtful, confusing words, Faizah will find new ways to be strong.

Release date: September 10, 2019

Okay, so this is more than ten, but the truth is there are just so many great picture books coming out and I cannot wait to add them to our collection. These books should be read aloud, shared, and celebrated in any way we can.

being a teacher, being me, new year

On Posters and Welcome Displays

The post I wrote before this was really long and rambling, so much so that I got sick of writing it and instead decided to just get to the point. So here’s the point…

If you come to our room, and many people do, you will see this poster hang next to the door, in a prominent place where I hope every person sees it. This poster is my heart on display, but it also so much more.

Image result for you are just the child we hoped

It is a promise.

A reminder.

A stern warning when needed.

And not to the kids, no, they barely glance at it, but to myself.

A promise to every child that walks in that day no matter their mood, no matter their temper, that in our space they will have space and I will do my best to value them.

A reminder to live the words I choose to share with the world, even when I am tired, frustrated, out of ideas.

And a stern warning to myself when my actions and reactions go against the very words I say I believe in. To stop. To breathe. To find love.

Because let’s face it, the display is easy to make but hard to live up to. Especially after the first few week’s excitement has worn off, especially once we settle into the every day routines, especially after the dust settles and we realize that we have so much to do and somehow we need to get doing it. Especially once we realize that we are, indeed, only humans with dreams and flaws that sometimes get in the way of success.

And so the poster hangs proudly as a reminder to myself to continue to reflect. To look at my own practice, to hold myself accountable even when others may think I am doing just fine. To use my voice to speak up, to try to make change, when so many inequitable practices still exists within the structures of school. To stick my neck out and fight for the kids who we don’t always fight for, even when I am the problem, even when my choices are the problem.

To remember that I cannot say that every child is welcome if the truth is far from it. That I cannot support the education of all children if the inequitable systems are not questioned, changed, broken. That I cannot pretend to be happy that these are the children that showed up if my pedagogical and psychological decisions don’t reflect that.

And so at the beginning of this brand new school year, with a classroom as ready as it can get for now, with all of these ideas in my head, with all of these hopes and dreams, I say this out loud so the universe knows; how will I live up to the words that I promise? How will you?

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.

books, picture books, writing, Writing Identity

A Few Picture Books to Teach Memoir

We are starting the year, and the creation of our writing portfolio, with a unit focused on memoir and personal essay. I am hoping that in this unit, the students will start to share parts of their writing identity through discussion of what makes them a writer or not, the erules of writing and which we need to break, as well as experimentation with writing based in their own lives.

I have been gathering memoirs and personal essays for a while now, trying to focus on stories that may enrich their understanding of how others see the world so that they in turn can focus on their own lives.

As always, our trusted picture books are part of the mentor text collection that will surround students as we embark into this work, so here are the ones I have pulled so far that focus on small moments and written in 1st person. While some of these are true memoirs, others are texts I can use as models despite them not being true stories.

Life Doesn’t Frighten Me by Maya Angelou, paintings by Jean-Michel Basquiat and edited by Sara Jane Boyers
The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by E.B. Lewis

I will add more as I pull them, especially newer books to use. If you would like to see other lists of favorite books, go here.