Friday, November 17, 2017

#EnticingWriters Blog Tour

I am thrilled to be able to share with all of you Ruth Ayres' new book, Enticing Hard-to-Reach Writers.  Earlier this week, Tammy and Clare wrote a great review on their blog, Assessment in Perspective. They give you the highlights of each section and share several quotes that are sure to linger in your thoughts.  

On Wednesday, Michelle, at Literacy Learning Zone, shared an interview with Ruth. In her post, Ruth answers questions from teachers about the writing process.

Today, in true Ruth Ayres style, I simply tell a story...or two.

I have always been a believer in "things happen for a reason." The week Ruth asked me to help welcome her book into the world, two situations happened. I believe each was meant to happen for me to fully understand the impact of Ruth's book on my thinking and my teaching.
The first was a conference for a new student who had recently been placed in our foster care system from a nearby county. She lived in deplorable conditions with parents who were drug users.  She bounced from foster home to foster home, and eventually landed with us.
She comes from a hard place.
The second happened during writing workshop in my classroom. We began a narrative unit, and I sat down next to one of my writers as she told me her story. Her mom was a drug user while she was pregnant. She had three other children and was incapable of caring for all of them. My student was later adopted, and she told me being adopted was the best thing that had happened to her.
She comes from a hard place.
Both of these students are still healing. Both situations made me realize that I not only wanted to read Ruth's book, but that I NEEDED to read it.  

I know I am not the only teacher to have children sitting in my classroom who come from hard places. We all have students just like Ruth's children: Hannah, Stephanie, Jay, and Sam.  

But do I understand how trauma alters children's brains? Do I know how to help them heal from their hard pasts? Am I a faithful and fearless teacher who can help them write a happy ending? Am I willing to take a leap of faith to entice all students to write their stories?

Ruth's book, Enticing Hard-to-Reach Writers helped me in my struggle to find those answers.


I first heard the introduction of Ruth's book last summer at the All Write Conference in Warsaw, Indiana. Ruth sat down on the floor of the stage with the microphone in her hand. Her voice quivered as she genuinely shared a part of her heart through her children's stories.  As tears were shed in that silent auditorium, she also reminded us that we, as teachers, have the power to change lives.


Ruth teaches us about brain research and how children from hard places can learn to heal. When we take the time to to provide for the needs of the children in our classrooms, "we prove to them they are valuable and worthy" (p. 21). Ruth reminds us that we don't always "see" the trauma students experience, yet their brains begin to heal when they know their needs are going to be met. Many times those needs are met by teachers.


Ruth shares her life as a writer and a workshop teacher and how becoming a writer made an impact in her teaching. For me, chapter seven was a power chapter because she states that being a teacher who writes is what eventually enticed her students to write themselves. "Of all things I can do to affect my writing instruction, this is the most important" (p. 48). Ruth reminds us that children who experience trauma, can begin the healing through story. And when teachers understand the impact of having written, we can help them heal.


Ruth gives us seven leaps of faith. She unsurprisingly prefaces the leaps with celebration, "Celebration lives alongside the messiness of learning; we simply must learn to see it" (p.83). The best part of this section is the feeling that Ruth is there holding my hand and saying, "You can do this, and I am going to show you how."

Earlier this week, just when I thought this blog post was finished, I experienced yet another encounter with a student writer. She was writing a narrative about the time her dad left her. She felt unwanted and unloved. We had conferred about the direction she wanted her story to go. I sat down next to her because I saw she wasn't writing. I asked her, "How's it going?"

She lowered her head, avoided my eyes, and reluctantly replied, "I don't want to write."

"Why?" I asked her. And as she shrugged her shoulders, I thought of what I had read and learned in Ruth's book and I told her, "You have a story on your heart, and I am here to help you write it."

I think about these students and their hard place stories. I want them to heal. I want them to be able to write a happy ending. And I want to be a part of that healing process.  I can no longer ignore my students' needs or pretend they do not come from hard places or live in fear. Instead, I can take the stories, ideas, and strategies that Ruth has shared in Enticing Hard-to-Reach Wrriters, and give them hope.

This...this is why I NEEDED to read Ruth's book.

Thank you, Ruth, for reminding me of why I became a teacher. Thank you for writing this much needed book and for sharing your children's stories with us. I know I am a much better teacher, writer, and person for having read it.

I leave you with Ruth's inspiring and empowering words:  

"Take the time to see their stories.  
Remember, you have the power to change the course of lives.  
All children deserve to know 
that they can write a different version of their stories."

Stenhouse Publishers has graciously donated two copies of Ruth's book to be given away at EACH stop on the blog tour. Please leave your thoughts about Ruth's book or share your story of enticing writers in the comment section below. Two lucky winners will be selected using a random generator after November 24th at 11:59 EST.
If you purchase a copy of Ruth's book before November 30, 2017, you are eligible for a free registration to her online Enticing Writers Book Club. Email your receipt to to join the fun in January 2018!

Thank you for stopping by today! Check out the entire Enticing Hard-to-Reach Writers blog tour. You won't want to miss any of them.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Creating Reading Memories

Each week Ruth Ayres extends an invitation to share the celebrations from our week.  Why don't you join the celebration?
Today I celebrate One Book, One District, One Community, a project I have been working on since the beginning of the school year.   The project revolved around the book Wonder, by R.J. Palacio. 

With the help of community sponsors and our school corporation administrators, we were able to purchase over 1,400 books.  Each student in our four elementary schools received their own copy.  Third through fourth grade received the novel, and our pre-school through second grade received the picture book, We Are All Wonders.

Teachers have been reading the book this month and participating in kindness activities.  Today was "Distribution Day," the day the students received their copy of the books.  I had the privilege to be at all four schools and to watch the magic.  

What a day for celebration! 

The smiles on their faces when they carefully held these books in their hands was pure joy.  Many of them sat right down and began turning the pages or tried to find the spot where their teacher was reading.

At one school, I knelt down and talked with a few of the students as their teachers were passing out the books.  Here are some of their reactions:

"Is this book really mine?"

"Do we get to take these home?

"Now I can read ahead of my teacher...but I won't tell what happens."

"I can't wait to take this home and read it to my mom."

The little girl in the pink jacket looked up at me and was the first one to say, "Thank you."  My heart melted because I could tell by her sweet little face that her thank you was so sincere.

As literacy teachers, we spend our days building reading communities, showing our students the importance of having a reading life, and hoping that we somehow provide the spark that ignites their love of reading. 

Our students won't look back and remember our most engaging lesson, or a grammar worksheet they mastered, or a standardized test prep packet.   

Our hope is that for the short time we have them in our classrooms, we create reading memories.  That we read aloud a book that changes them.  That we place a book in their hands that teaches them empathy, or that becomes a mirror where they see themselves, or that gives them hope.  

We want them to look back and say, "Remember that time when we read..."  We want to be memory makers because...

Reading memories trigger reading lives.
(Click to tweet.)

And that is what today was all about. 

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Sifter #poetryFriday

Welcome to Poetry Friday and my little corner of the world!  This is my first time hosting, and I appreciate you stopping by to share your bit of poetry with all of us.

My last Donor's Choose project was a collection of poetry books.  Some were old, some were new, but all revolved around the teenage years.  Today I share with you some thoughts and words from from Naomi Shihab Nye in her book, A Maze Me.

In the introduction to this book, Naomi shares her worry about becoming a teenager and wanting to hang on to childhood just a little bit longer.   In one part she talks about not remembering "the name of a single junior high school teacher."  Yet she could name every elementary teacher and most of her high school teachers.  She asks, "What happened in between?"

Naomi says when she turned seventeen, "I started feeling as if my soul fit my age again, or my body had grown to fit my brain.  When she was in college, she met Nellie Lucas, an eccentric women, who taught Naomi to "slow down and to pay better attention to everything" and to have faith about "growing up."

One of the best pieces of advice I found for want-to-be writers is, "If you write three lines down in a notebook every day (they don't have to be important, they don't have to relate to one another, you don't have to show them to anyone) will find out what you notice.  Uncanny connections will be made visible to you.  That's what I started learning when I was twelve, and I never stopped learning it."

She compares growing up as "Every year unfolds like a petal inside all the years that preceded it.  You will feel your thinking springing up and layering inside your huge mind a little differently.  Your thinking will befriend you.  Words will befriend you.  You will be given more than you could ever dream."

What follows these wise words, is a collection of 72 poems. Below is my favorite.

~Naomi Shihab Nye

When our English teacher gave
our first writing assignment of the year,
become a kitchen implement
in 2 descriptive paragraphs, I did not think
butcher knife or frying pan,
I thought immediately 
of soft flour showering through the little holes
of the sifter and the sifter's pleasing circular
swishing sound, and wrote it down.
Rhoda became a teaspoon,
Roberto a funnel,
Jim a muffin tin
and Forrest a soup pot.
We read our paragraphs out loud.
Abby was a blender.  Everyone laughed
and acted giddy but the more we thought about it, 
we were all everything in the whole kitchen,
drawers and drainers,
singing teapot and and grapefruit spoon
with serrated edges, we were all the 
empty cup, the tray.
This, said our teacher, is the beauty of metaphor.
It opens doors.
What I could not know then was how being a sifter
would help me all year long.
When bad days came
I would close my eyes and feel them passing
through the tiny holes.
When good days came
I would try to contain them gently
the way flour remains
in the sifter until you turn the handle.
Time, time. I was a sweet sifter in time
and no one ever knew.

Shihab Nye, Naomi. "A Maze Me: Poems for Girls." Harper Collins Publishers:  New York, NY. 2005.

May we all become sifters.  
Thank you for visiting today, and please share your link below.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Gown of Gold ~ Poetry Friday

It's Poetry Friday, and Irene has the round-up at Live Your Poem.

It is a glorious Poetry Friday, and I am on fall break.  I have spent the last three days trying to finish up a grad course.  I started classes in September and my reading and writing life has taken a downturn.  Today, while sitting outside, I decided I needed a break.  I thought catching up on blog posts from friends was just the thing I needed.

My first stop was Terje's at Just For a Month.  She posted photos from a fall walk, and they are gorgeous.  Next stop was Margaret's at Reflections on the Teche, where I read her Poetry Friday post, a collection of student poems.  

In my comment to her, I said how much I wanted to take time out from studying and just write.  

And so I did.

I went back to Terje's pictures because they always give me inspiration.  Jotted down some thoughts and ideas in my notebook.  Marked many out and tried again.  So instead of writing about learning theories, I wrote about fall and her gown of gold.  

Next week I host the round-up, so I hope to see you here.

Gown of Gold

Photo by Terje Akke, Estonia
I stand tall in my gown of gold,
sleeves stretching endlessly
to cover your bareness.

I pause and ponder
the change which will
become our destiny.

I glance one last time
at my reflection
in the mirror.

I bask in my moment of glory
and hesitantly wait 
for winter’s wardrobe.

©Leigh Anne Eck, 2017

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Celebrating Student Writing

Each week Ruth Ayres extends an invitation to share the celebrations from our week.  Why don't you join the celebration?

Today I combine Poetry Friday with my Celebration post.  Join this week's round-up with Kathryn Apel.

As I was giving a test on Friday at school, a former student came to my room and asked me if I would read something she had written and tell her what I thought.  The assignment was to write from the voice of an inanimate object.  Kaitlyn's writing left me speechless.

A colleague describes Kaitlyn as an "old soul" and this description could not be more perfect.  The words which come from her pen are full of imagery.  Her vocabulary is beyond that of a 7th grader, and her sentence structure is something which cannot be taught.

I told her I thought she could work this into a stunning poem, adding line breaks to deepen the meaning and make the lyrical imagery stand out.  But when I shared it with Margaret Simon, she said it could be left as a prose poem.

So, today I share and celebrate her work with you.

I am paper. I am frail and faint, sitting in a stack of thousands just like myself, collecting more and more dust by the second. My skin crawls against the soft wind of her door opening, and then closing. Her humming echos throughout the bedroom. I can hear her tossing the brown rucksack down. I now know, it’s time to write. She gently scoops me up in her hands, taking me away from the others. But I know, I will see them again. I wish I could reach out a hand as soft as hers, but I cannot. For I am not real. She’s begun her writing now. Although I cannot see the words her pencil writes on my skin, I feel her story coming to life. I can feel every squiggle, line, and eraser mark she makes as she trails down my vibrant blue veins. When the pencil drops from her delicate hands, sadness washes over me like rain on a sunny day. But of course, she’s still smiling. She’ll never truly feel this pain that runs through my blue lines. As she steps up from her chair, I feel different. Shreds of my flaky paper skin begin dancing around the room. I see her eyes shining bright from the slight distance. And then time stops. She hesitantly brushes a hands across my cheek. I feel her arms wrap around me in a hug. Impossible, I think to myself. But I look down. I am human. My shreds of paper skin have become real. I have arms and legs and a torso, too. I am human, like her. But something is wrong. My flaky paper skin is falling apart now. I am becoming nothing more than paper again. She grasps my forearms, as I do the same to her. I am fading fast, too fast. But then I realize, I am paper. I am the body of a book. And with that book, a spine. We are all held together by nothing more than words. Her beautiful words. I feel her grip tightening as I take my paper form once more. But before I am completely lost, I tell her this, “I love you, but you’re real.”
And this is how your story becomes real. But is it really a story if the words don’t dance across the pages? Is it really a story if you aren’t a part of the same world?  And is it really a story if a piece of you isn’t left between the spine?
~ Kaitlyn

I plan to show her your comments about her writing, so thank you for reading today.  

Here is a quote in her writer's notebook. I don't think this is something she has to worry about because I am quite confident she was born to write.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Rising Celebrations ~ Celebrate 2017 (nineteen)

Each week Ruth Ayres extends an invitation to share the celebrations from our week.  Why don't you join the celebration?

Isn't it funny how a single word can bring about change?  Changes you think about, changes you hope for,

and changes you never expected.

Today is a simple list of rising celebrations.

In about three weeks I start on my master's degree. After ten years of teaching, it is time to think about different paths.  Getting this degree is the first step.

In one week I will be presenting training/professional development on writing traits for our English department. Focusing on literacy instruction in every classroom in my school has been a vision for me, albeit a blurry one.  The path to what this may look like is becoming more visible (which is the reason for the above celebration).

In about six weeks our school district and (hopefully) our community will be celebrating the book Wonder by R.J. Polacio.  I am spearheading a One Book, One District, One Community project.  Thanks to Katherine Sokolowski for the idea.  Read about her project here.

A week ago Jennifer Laffin, Michelle Haseltine, Margaret Simon and I launched our new chat for teachers and teacher-writers. I think all four of us were rather surprised at the response we received. Check out the #TeachWrite Chat blog with an archive of the chat along with a call to write for the JOY of it.

I just finished our first full week of school.  Another school year with another set of students is always a celebration.

Have a great week, and may you find many celebrations along the way!

Friday, July 21, 2017

Roots and Wings #PoetryFriday

It's Poetry Friday, and Katie has the round-up at The Logonauts.

Dinner time has always been a sacred time for us the last 25 years. As our children have grown up, we have talked about our days, our struggles, and our stories. My children have also learned to sit and observe the climate of the room before asking for something they want, telling us something we don't want to hear, or making an announcement.

This week was no different. My son told us that he was starting his college time away from home this coming weekend, a month earlier than expected. 

I looked at my husband and found no reaction. Later that night as he was working on his jeep, I told him, "We raised them to have roots and wings. He's ready to fly."

He stopped and said, "I know."  He continued to work the white cloth in one continuous, circular motion as if he was trying to keep the circle of life going.

Today as my son and I were driving in his car, he looked over at me and said, "You are taking it better than I thought you would." 

I smiled.

And so, a new life for us begins and gives me reason to reflect on this poem.  Many different poems have been written about roots and wings, but I prefer this one:

Roots and Wings

Roots and wings are what we give our children, if we try. 
Roots that reach down deep and wings so they can touch the sky. 
To know that they are part of something greater than themselves. 
A harbor in the storms of life to save them from the swells. 

Much more than blood or family, roots provide integrity 
Which rounds out and develops character until they see 
The sky above and try their wings.  Roots help our children fly, 
Yet keep them grounded in the truth so they don't pass it by! 

You can find the entire poem here at All Poetry.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

#TeachWrite Twitter Chat

Back in January I chose a one little word - Rise. After choosing a word, I never know where it is going to take me, and I cherish those moments when it takes me by complete surprise.

I have been a writing teacher for ten years, but I have been a teacher-writer for about four. Writing has changed me as a person, as well as a teacher.

I am blessed to have connected with so many other teachers who write and share my passion about writing. Although these connections come from all over the world, when we share this passion, the distance becomes insignificant, and the passion unites us in ways I would have never dreamed.

I have joined Jennifer Laffin, Margaret Simon, and Michelle Haseltine in creating a new Twitter chat - #TeachWrite.  Our goal is to create a place to share our writing experiences with teacher-writers and with those teachers who want to begin the writing journey.

We rise when we lift others. It is my hope that this new chat becomes a place for us to lift other teachers, and a place for our writing to rise as well.

Do you….
Believe that teaching writing is easier when teachers are writers themselves?
Believe that our own writing lives deserve to be nurtured?
Believe that all writers grow through dedicated writing time?
Believe that all writers need support and encouragement?
Believe that writing is a messy process and the best way to learn this is through our own practice?
Believe that when teachers write, they make writing a priority in their classrooms?

Our chat will support teachers not only in their quest to become better teachers of writers but to become better writers ourselves.

In addition, each chat will end with an invitation to write!

Please join us!

Our first chat is Monday, August 7th at 7:30 PM EST with the topic of  “Writing for the JOY of It!”

You can sign up to receive a monthly reminder of our #TeachWrite chat by signing up for a Remind: 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

My Journey with a Leveled Library

Discussions on leveling books and libraries seems to be elevated lately. This topic was the discussion in several conferences this week so tweets were flying.  The National Council of Teachers of English  posted "What's Your Lexile Score?" today.

This trend has me thinking about my own journey with a leveled library.

I teach in an Accelerated Reading district, and most of the classroom libraries are leveled. When I first began teaching, my library was leveled too. That's just how it was done, and I didn't know any better.

After reading professional books, especially The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller, I began to see the light and the damage I was doing to my students. I began to slowly add baskets of popular series and authors, as well as baskets of genres and nonfiction topics. Because I taught 4th grade, many of my students did not know how to choose a book other than from the leveled baskets. 

We had a learning curve which I continue to fight today. One the of the first discussions I have with my middle schoolers is what they notice about our classroom library. Many immediately notice that the books are not leveled, and I tell them they never will be. I teach them to choose books based on their preferences and how to determine if a book is appropriate for them. This is part of teaching the reader.

I worked with a teacher who had a different philosophy of teaching reading then I did, especially when it came to AR. We often disagreed, and he often quoted, "Programs don't teach readers, teachers do." 

He is absolutely correct, and I agree 100%. 

But what is a leveled library doing? Many libraries are organized by matching colored baskets, clearly labeled with AR levels.  This "program" is teaching our students how to choose books.  Not teachers. 

I will continue to fight against "programs teaching readers" and limiting their ability to choose books for themselves. I will continue to advocate for choice.

My journey with a leveled library has ended.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Short Inventory of a Summer Day ~ Celebrate 2017 (eighteen)

Each week Ruth Ayres extends an invitation to share the celebrations from our week.  Why don't you join the celebration?

On my computer sits a coral sticky note. Its purpose is not what you would expect - a place to write reminders. Instead it is a quick check to see which one of the three Mac computers is actually mine. I have been known on multiple occasions to take the wrong one to school.

Today the sticky note sits in the bottom, left hand corner with these words scribbled in messy handwriting:  "short inventory of current life."

I wrote this quote down weeks ago because I loved the celebration that it captured. I thought I knew its owner, but when I went back to link the post with the quote, I couldn't find it. Please let me know if those words were yours so I can give proper credit.  Here is how I captured my inventory and my celebration today.

Short Inventory of a Summer Day

fresh sweet corn
fresh peaches
low-humidity pool time
kids home
lingering back porch moments
freshly brewed iced tea
a return of green grass
black-eyed Susans

a perfect summer celebration

Monday, July 3, 2017

Life After Accelerated Reader

Those of you who know me or have read my blog for awhile, know that I have a strong disdain for Accelerated Reader. I teach in an AR district, but thankfully, I am not forced to use it. Sadly, it is not like that for everyone in my district. I know we have teachers who do not like using AR in their classroom, yet we also have teachers who would struggle without it.

I recently had a conversation with a teacher who knows my opinions and knows that I have been successful without using AR.  She asked me what would be the first things I would do. My first response was that I would buy every teacher a copy of The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller.

I fear that many of our teachers would struggle if we discontinue AR because we have used it for so long, and they do not know anything different.  I am sure many teachers, not only those in my district, have this same fear.  I am proof that there is life after Accelerated Reader.

If you know teachers who use AR and are afraid they can't teach without it, then send them a link to this post.  Let this post be their life preserver; give them something to hang on to and let it buoy up their strength to make the decision that is best for readers.

Is there life out there?

You have to believe that a reading community can and will exist without AR. You not only have to believe it, but you have to live it.  Is it easy? No. One of the positives (if there truly is one) of AR is the ease in its implementation and the little work it places on teachers.
Easy is not always best for our students. 
(click to tweet)

To believe in this new path, you need support.  Here are a few suggestions:
  • Read The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller or other books, articles or websites that support reading communities.  This is where you will read real stories about real teachers who have been in your shoes and have broken the chains of AR.  
  • Know the research.  Donalyn Miller has a great blog post with links to research. When someone questions your practices, you must be knowledgeable and you must be confident. You must know that research supports that giving students time to read and access to books is connected to reading achievement. Reading achievement is not connected to answering multiple choice questions after reading a book. 
  • Find your tribe.  I always thought I was the only one in my district who did not like AR. I learned that I was not alone, but many were afraid to take that stance for fear of backlash from other teachers or administrators. Becoming a connected educator through blogging and Twitter and attending literacy conferences made me realize that I am not alone.  Other people who believe in the same things as I do really do exist.
Where do I start?

The biggest obstacle for any teacher wanting to build a reading community without AR is knowing where to start.  If you ask teachers this question, you may get different answers, but many would include these five steps:

  1. Live a literate life.  Would you send your child to swim lessons with an instructor who never gets in the water?  Of course not.  So, why should our students have teachers who do not read? Being knowledgeable and excited about the books in your library is one of the best ways to motive kids to read.  Create a display of the books you have read. Have conversations about books with your students. Hand them a book and say, "I thought about you when I read this."  Building this connection with your students shows them that you are a reader.
  2. Plan regular book talks.  Make it a point to talk about a book(s) each and every day. After I do a book talk, my students can't wait to read it.  Many times, I have to have a drawing to see who gets it first. When I intentionally write book talks in my plans, I tend to do them more. It becomes part of my day.
  3. Build your classroom library.  Having access to books has a positive impact on student engagement.  If we want kids to read, they must have a quick and easy way to get books in their hands. Having access to books makes it easier for us as teachers to match kids with books.  And this is one of the most important jobs of being a reading teacher. 
  4. Make reading its own reward. Tangible rewards do not work.  Having students earn points and using them as motivation may be a quick fix for a grading period, but it does not create lifelong readers. And that should be our ultimate goal. I know teachers who punish students for bad behavior or for not making their AR goal by keeping them in for recess and making them read.  This is wrong. This is teaching malpractice. As Donalyn Miller says,

    "When we communicate to children that the only reason to read is to earn a reward or grade, we fail to impart reading's true value. 
    Reading is its own reward, and it bestows immeasurable gifts on readers."

  5. Find value in all reading.  This will be one of the hardest actions for an AR teacher to do because many are used to handing kids their ZPD and monitoring these levels. But let them read. If they want to read a graphic novel, let them read.  If they want to read a magazine, let them read. If they want to read a book that is too hard or too easy, let them read. With your professional knowledge as a teacher, you will guide them to find books that interest them and that they are capable of reading. To paraphrase Donalyn Miller, find value in all reading and let them know that all readers in your classroom are valuable.
Eliminating Accelerated Reader from your classroom and building a true reading community takes time and takes a lot of work. You must trust that your readers will read, and they must trust you to create an environment that nurtures a reading life.

When you have a true reading community, trust is the glue that holds it together.
(click to tweet)

Yes, there is life after AR. Be brave enough to seek it and find comfort in knowing you are not alone.