Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Must Read in 2014 Comes to A Close

Last year Carrie Gelson of There's A Book For That put out a call for those who were interested in creating a Must Read in 2014 list.  The lists consisted of books we didn't read in 2013 and wanted to read in 2014.  I had 26 novels and 3 professional development books.

I did well the first six months.  The rest of the year my reading consisted of 2014 books because my goal was to read the Newbery winner before the awards.  My updates are posted here and here.  

Instead of posting what I didn't accomplish with this goal, I decided to list my favorites off of my Must Read in 2014 list.  I read 14 out of the 26 novels.  I tried to read more fantasy because this is a genre I typically avoid.  My top three picks just happen to be fantasy - goal accomplished!

Rump by Liesl Shurtliff
I can't wait for Jack to come out in April!

Beholding Bee by Kimberly Newton Fusco
This book made appreciate even more all those students 
who feel they are different and the people who believe in them.

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee
A fairytale about the power of friendship.

I still have several books from 2014 I need to read so creating my list for 2015 should not be too hard!  I hope you consider joining us and making a Must Read in 2015 list.  

My Year in Books

I will always remember 2014 as the year my reading life changed.  I have always been a reader, but this year was different.  After being introduced to Donalyn Miller, Colby Sharp, Mr. Schu and many others on Twitter, I think you can understand why.

Reading books the year they were published was never a priority for me.  But this year, I was determined to read the Newbery before the awards this winter.  I have never done this.  Heck, I never really paid much attention to when they were published.  I just read books that were in Scholastic or that I found at our library. Being on Twitter made me want to read them this year.  It became an obsession.  I guess book obsession makes me an official member of The Nerdy Book Club!

This year I read 32 middle grade novels published in 2014.  And yes, I think I have read the Newbery winner.  Here are my top picks in no particular order with the exception of this first one.

My first novel of 2014 was A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd.

I love this book!  If you could open my heart, you would still see lines etched from this book.  In my opinion, this book is just as deserving and beautifully written as others that are being discussed as Newbery worthy.  

"Lonely," I said.  "I see it all the time, mostly in school and in church and in malls and driving down the road.  Always the places where the most people are.  Isn't that weird?"

I never wanted to forget all the ways we were connected that day:  By our shadows and sunlight.  By pounding hearts and a starry maybe.

"Forgetting people you love is impossible.  It'd be like forgetting how to breathe."

I once referred the reading of this book to a first kiss.  It was magical, and one I will never forget.  I remember the time, the place and the stirring in my heart as I read it.

Now the rest of my top picks in no particular order.

The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky by Holly Schindler
Auggie is a spunky character I won't soon forget.

Half a Chance by Cynthia Lord
This book reminds me of my grandma - enough said without spoiling the story!

The Riverman by Aaron Starmer
This book left me with more questions than answers.  
I can't wait for The Whisper on March 17th.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Simply beautiful.

Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere by Julie T. Lamana
Heartfiction - my favorite genre

The Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson
For someone who doesn't like fantasy, I was enthralled with this book.

Crossover by Kwane Alexander
I love when books have a moment where you 
stop breathing and become part of the story.  
This book had one of those moments for me.

Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin
Heartfiction, again my favorite genre, with an important story.

I still have several other books I need to read before the awards are announced.  The year 2014 was a great year for middle grade literature.  From what I am hearing from that list of people in the beginning of my post, 2015 looks like it will be another great year of reading.

Happy New Year and as always - Happy Reading!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Looking Back

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for creating a place to share our Slice of Life. Read more slices or add you own here.

It is the time to look back and reflect on 2014.  It is hard to believe that another year has gone by.

My word for 2014 was REACH, and what a year of reaching it was for me.  This year brought many high points along with some very low ones.  

A special Christmas gift from my friend and colleague, Kristen.

I wrote here that I wanted to reach out to others, reach out of my comfort zone and reach out to make my life bigger.  And I did just that.

On a personal note, my children have reached that adult or almost an adult stage in life.  My son started a band and is beginning to reach out through his music.  My daughter will be student teaching in six days.  She is reaching that culmination point of her education.  My role as their mother has changed.  Still important but just different.  Reaching this point of parenthood has been filled with many emotions. 

I found out in January that Twitter was an extension of my arms, reaching out to teachers across the country.  The connections I have made through blogging and tweeting were celebrated in June when I went to AllWrite! and met Ruth, Elsie, Linda, Christy, Kim, MaryHelen, Jen, and Katherine. (I apologize if I missed anyone.  I can't find the picture!)  

I have grown as a teacher, a reader, a writer and as a person simply by reaching out into this community of friends.

Reaching out of my comfort zone is always a challenge.  Presenting PD's to colleagues was one the most difficult things I did as a teacher.  This type of PD is not well received here yet, but I tried to reach out and share my experiences.  I am still reaching because last night I tweeted to all of our schools that I want to have a Twitter party.  So many of them are missing out on so much.  I want to show them what Twitter can offer - no takers yet!

I also reached out and wrote two posts for the Nerdy Book Club.  That was scary because I admire and respect so many of the people involved in that endeavor.  They are my rock stars!  You can read those here and here.

Twice I had to reach deep and try to understand why people do the things they do. Two people who I respected, made some wrong decisions which hurt many people. Forgiving is hard.  I learned that when we put people up on pedestals, it makes it that much farther when they fall.  

This year I changed schools and grade levels.  Making this change was not something I had planned or even thought about.  I assumed I would teach 4th grade for the remainder of my teaching career.  After moving to 6th grade, I know this was the right decision.  I miss my teacher friends from my previous school, but being able to reach out and form relationships with "almost-teenagers" has been an incredible experience.  

I also started the Next Chapter Book Club here in my hometown.  Starting this club was something I had wanted to do for quite some time. It became a reality this year and has been such a blessing.  We are currently reading I Survived the Sinking of the Titanic, and sharing my love of reading with them is reaching beyond boundaries. You can read about it here.  (I hope to share my group with you in a few weeks.)

Choosing one word to live by for the year also has ties of faith for me.  I wanted to reach out and become closer to God.  I have had mixed feelings on writing about that on this blog.  I wanted this blog to be more of my life as a teacher, a reader, and a writer.  Because of this and because of my desire to include my faith in my one little word, I have decide to start another blog.  I will include my Spiritual Journey Thursday posts with Holly Mueller and other new adventures.  The name of the new blog is tied in with my one little word for 2015.  I am so excited about this new adventure and will share it some time this week.

I still have one goal that I did not reach this year, but moving grade levels prohibited that.  Hopefully when I have a year of teaching middle school under my belt, I can still REACH out of my comfort zone while reaching others and making my life even bigger!  We will see.

If you are still thinking about choosing one word to guide you through the new year, you might want to check out my post from yesterday.  It has some thoughts from Jon Gordon's book.

Another year has gone by.  It was an exceptional year for me.  I can't wait to see what 2015 will bring.

Monday, December 29, 2014

One Word

This time of year many people are thinking about their one little word.  Some may be narrowing their choices.  Some may be waiting for that sign.  While others may be choosing a word for the first time.

This will be my third year to choose an OLW.  Search was 2013 and REACH was my word for 2014. Both of my words found me, and both were inspired by Ann Voskamp at A Holy Experience.  I think I have once again found my 2015 OLW from Ann's blog. I will be writing about that soon.

Last year I ordered the book One Word That Will Change Your Life by Jon Gordon. Because I already had my word for 2014 by the time the book arrived, I chose to wait to read it until I was thinking about my word for 2015.  

Many lines and ideas made me think about choosing the right word for me.  Giving up resolutions was very easy for me because that was something in which I typically failed.  Choosing one word gives me a way to approach the new year and a focus to carry me throughout the year.  It certainly became a way for me to grow this year in so many ways.

If you are narrowing your choices or considering choosing a word for the first time, the book suggests you ask these three questions while opening your heart for your word:

1.  What do I need?  Think about what areas of your life need attention or change and why?  Try not to think about what you want, but rather what you need.  You might be surprised by what you find.  

2.  What's in my way?  What obstacles are in your way?  What do you need to remove in order to find this personal growth?  "Sometimes the barriers are simply in our mind."  This line was an eye opener for me.

3.  What needs to go?  We all make mistakes or hold on to things in which we need to let go.  This is the time to let go and move forward.

This year I learned the power of one word.  It was a journey that led me throughout the year, and I know I became a better person because of it.  I end with these final words from the book.  For me, this is the key.  This holds the power of one little word.

Your word shapes your character.  
Your character influences your actions.  
Your actions influence others.  
The lives you touch and the impact you have 
determine the story that will be told about you tomorrow?

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Remember When Moments

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for creating a place to share our Slice of Life. Read more slices or add you own here.

Christmas traditions are little treasures tucked inside my heart.  With each passing year, they become more valuable because I know one day soon our traditions will be changing.  Our children are 18 and 22, and they will be moving on to start their own traditions.  

This is hard.

I have always put up our decorations the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and I usually do most of the decorating.  The only exception is the tree.  The tree is a family affair. Some years the tree would stand bare but lighted, waiting on the kids' schedules to accommodate the family tradition of hanging the ornaments together, sharing those "remember when moments."

This is hard.

For many years I bought the kids an ornament with the idea that when they moved out, they would have  their own ornaments for their trees.  Now, as I look at these ornaments hanging on our tree, each one put up with a "remember when," I don't know if I can part with them.  As I sit and look at the tree, it is a menagerie of memories.  It is a perfectly shaped picture of our life as parents and as a family. 

This is hard.

Megan's first Christmas.
Ethan's first Christmas.
Megan's first Christmas as a big sister.
The ornament that everyone STILL fights over!
Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

When I Was A Kid

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for creating a place to share our Slice of Life. Read more slices or add you own here.

I saw a few tweets yesterday from Seymour Simon with the hashtag #WhenIWasAKid.  I started thinking about my childhood and found the perfect slice for today.  I have to admit, it was a lot of fun finding the pictures and reminiscing.

So here it is...
When I was a kid...

I drank Coca-cola from a bottle and returned them for a deposit.

I could write a entire post just on my hair!
My mom curled my hair with pin curls...and to think I actually have naturally curly hair!
Can you believe I slept on those!

I went from pin curls to pink sponge rollers...

to hot rollers.

My hair styles ranged from Dorothy Hamill...
I actually chemically straightened my hair for the Hamill wedge,

to the Farah Fawcett look.
For my senior pictures, I had the Farah hair...complete with wings!

The Brady Bunch were my role models.  
We played Brady Bunch with my cousins.  I was Jan, and my cousin Beth was always Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!

My babysitter wouldn't let me watch Dark Shadows after school.

I listened to 45's on my record player AFTER I placed the little plastic thing in the middle.

My favorite Christmas present one year was a Spirograph.

I wore white go-go boots.

These dolls were my favorite!
I could pull on their pony-tails and their hair grew!

And TV did not have a remote control.
We had to get up and turn the dial to one...of...the...three...stations we got.
No cable back then!

What do you remember...when you were a kid.

Monday, December 8, 2014

I Said the F Word

I said it.  I said the F word.  I looked my students straight in the eye and said, "I failed you and I am sorry."

For the past six weeks, we have been reading with a pen, or annotating text.  The work students were turning in was not what I thought I would or should be seeing from 6th graders, and I could not figure out why.  

I began reflecting on how I taught this strategy to them.  I have always tried to incorporate the "I do, we do, you do," part of the gradual release of responsibility model.  Wondering if maybe I didn't do enough of the modeling before hand, I decided to try it again on Monday.  I modeled exactly what the strategy entailed.  We annotated together, sharing and displaying questions and comments from students.  Then, I sent them off to complete the assignment.

As they began getting out their assignment on Friday, I heard them talking about the article and saw what they had done.  I was thrilled with what I saw.  I put them into small groups to discuss the article, and I could immediately tell a difference in their discussions.  After we came together for the whole group wrap-up discussion, I asked them how they thought it went.  Hearing positive comments, I asked what made this week so different.  Every class said it was Monday's lesson, explicitly showing them what was expected that made the difference.  I learned that the first time I taught the lesson, I used the "here is how it is done, now go do it" approach -- one I know does not work.  I wanted to crawl into a hole and hide.  I knew I had failed but knew it was a teachable moment.

That is when I said the F word.  I apologized and admitted that I had failed to teach them how to do the strategy and what I expected from them.  

Sometimes even when we know better, we still fail.  But it is through failure that we learn the most.  This is a lesson I won't soon forget.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Living in a World of Don't-Believe

As teachers we are asked to deal with or accept many educational issues in which we may not believe.  For example, Common Core Standards, merit pay, charter schools, or teacher evaluations just to name a few.

For me, one of those issues is Accelerated Reader.  I know many posts and articles have been written about AR, and I probably do not have anything new to add.  I work in a corporation where many teachers wholeheartedly accept and embrace AR.  I am not one those teachers.  Instead, I have learned how to live in a world of don't-believe by adapting my beliefs and what I know is best practice into a classroom that supports students as lifelong readers.

I have had several conversations with administrators and teachers where we debated our views.  Most of them support AR because they say it worked in their classrooms. I think it is important to clearly define the meaning of "worked."

If it means that students read for a nine week grading period four times a year, then I would say yes, it probably "worked" in their classroom.  If it means that their students were what I call "binge readers" where they read a lot in the last few days of the grading period just to make their goal, then I would say yes, it probably "worked."

But that is not my definition of what works in my classroom.  I want my students to be lifelong readers, not just readers for 36 weeks.  I want my readers to continue to grab a book after the gold stars are up, the pizza is eaten and the prizes are won.

I want my readers to get lost in books all year long.  I want them to develop empathy for people who are less fortunate than them.  I want books to connect who they are to who they want to become.  I want them to learn life lessons and develop into people who care about others and the world in which we live.  I want them to become friends with the characters and dread reaching the end of the story.

One teacher told me how she loved talking about the books after her students took a test, and how she recommended new books or genres to them.  She was thrilled when students' reading took off.  She believes if it wasn't for AR, that would have never happened.  It was not AR that did that.  It was the relationships she built with her students.  It was about having a reading relationship with them and talking about books.

Building reading relationships with students and developing lifelong readers does not happen because students read a book and take a test.  I believe this happens because of choice, time, and talk.


Research shows that when students have the opportunity to self-select books, their time spent reading, their motivation, and their comprehension increases.  Because of this, my students chose their books.  I do not hold my students to their ZPD or zone of proximate development, determined by the AR program.  If a student is reading a series and one of the books does not fall in his or her ZPD, of course he or she can read it.  I do not penalize students for reading outside of their levels because I would not like to be told I couldn't finish a series because "it wasn't in my level."

I also do not force students to "challenge" themselves by reading in the upper levels of their ZPD. Independent reading should be for enjoyment.  Students will be engaged readers when they enjoy what they are reading and when they get the opportunity to chose the book.

The way AR levels books does not make sense to me.  Here is why.  According to AR levels, this book and all of the books in this series

ATOS reading level 5.2
 are at a higher level than this book.

ATOS reading level 4.8

I have a hard time believing that The Diary of a Wimpy Kid is more challenging than Divergent, nor do I believe that a 4th or 5th grade student needs to be reading Divergent.  I will only use these as guides because clearly something is wrong with the system.

I wrote a post here about a document written by Renaissance Learning about reading levels and what students are reading.  After reading this document, I still had many unanswered questions about student choice.


Research shows that students who read more perform better on reading achievement tests.  Giving students time to read during the school day is vital, but becomes much more difficult at the middle school level because I only have 48 minutes with them.  I believe in putting time into what I value, but I was not living that in my classroom at the beginning of the year.  I was more focused on teaching standards and making sure all of my standards were taught in the designated time period.

If I want my students to see that I value reading and that independent reading is important, then I need to make time for them to read.  This is especially true at the middle school level when extra curricular activities begin to play an important role in their lives.

For the past six weeks, I have started each class with 10 minutes of reading time every day.  This has become a non-negotiable for me.  Spending time teaching standards is not going to matter if my students are not able to read grade-level text and have not built up the stamina to sustain reading during an assessment.


Reading is a social activity, and students need time to talk about the books they read.  They need to talk to each other and share their reading experiences before, during and after reading a book.  There is no better motivation than to read a book a friend or a teacher has just recommended.  When I finish a book, I typically want to talk to my friends or family members about it.  Social media has become my outlet and the perfect place for talking about books.  I have also brought social media to my students.  We try to tweet about books and blog about them to build up the excitement.  Just last week students "shopped" for books after I purchased a huge stack at the Scholastic Warehouse sale.  Monday we will have our first drawing to see who gets to be the first reader of the new titles.

I love the conversations I have with my students about books.  I love sharing my latest read with them, and how I stayed up late finishing the last few pages.  Students ask me how can I remember what everyone is reading.  My answer is simple.  What they read matters to me.  Points, tests and levels do not.

No, this is not a perfect world, and for me, it is certainly a world of don't-believe.  I am a rule-follower and a people pleaser, so I will continue to do as I am told...for now.  Our contract with Renaissance learning is up in 2017, and I will continue to share research with teachers and administrators.  But until then, I will hold on to my beliefs, and I will continue to build reading relationships and to develop lifelong readers.

Never underestimate the power of a great book 
in the hands of a teacher who knows how to use it. -- Steven L. Layne 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Celebrate Good Times, Come On! - 12/6

It has been so long since I have written a celebration post, but I am ever so grateful to Ruth Ayres for inviting us to share and celebrate events, big or small, from our week. 

Celebration one - special gifts.  This week I spent some time with a teacher friend from my previous school.  We went to the Scholastic Warehouse Sale (see celebration two) and spent the evening solving the world's education problems! She surprised me with a Christmas present.  The first one are magnetic Scrabble tiles which spell out my one little word - REACH.  The second one is my initial cut from an old book.  She knows me so well!

Celebration two - As stated in celebration one, I went to the Scholastic Warehouse sale this week.  All the books were 50% off, plus many were at a reduced price.  Teaching 6th grade for the first time, I needed to stock my library with books for that age group.  It was a great book night!  It was just as much fun bringing the books to school and having the kids "book shop" too!

Celebration three - Several weeks ago, our high school had a fund raiser for a student who has been diagnosed with cancer.  He was a student in my first class as a 5th grader.  It is hard to believe they will be graduating.  The event was a "Mr. Alice Pageant."  (Alice is our school mascot.)  This was a "pageant" for boys, and it was so entertaining.  They performed an opening number and had the traditional talent, outfit, and question portions.  Hilarious!

My son participated in this event.  He played his guitar while one boy, who is growing his hair to donate it to Locks of Love, lip-synced, danced and flipped his ponytail to "Barbie Girl."  Another danced through the decades.  These boys were so much fun to watch.  My sister, who is a high school teacher, said she saw different sides to these students which she doesn't get to see in the classroom.

They ended up raising almost $2000 for this family.  So, if you ever need a fun and entertaining fundraiser, I highly suggest hosting one of these.  It was great family entertainment for a great cause.  

My son playing his guitar.
Have a great week filled with many celebrations.  And if you don't find a celebration, then why not create one!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Magic

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for creating a place to share our Slice of Life. Read more slices or add you own here.

Have you all seen this years Christmas commercial from Kohl's?  I am such a sap when it comes to books and commercials, especially Christmas commercials. Hallmark and Maxwell House coffee at Christmastime just do me in.  Take a look at this one if you have not seen it yet.

Christmas is such a magical time.  The other day I was talking to a colleague about how much I love experiencing Christmas through the eyes of a four year old.  Those years were simply the best.

My children are now 18 and 22 and the magic of Christmas has changed.  Yes, it is sad, but I have always said that each stage of raising children has its own wonderfulness.  Those of you with toddlers may not understand this yet because it is so hard to imagine their lives as teenagers and young adults.  But it will happen.

Although I still get to see the magic, it is through a different lens.  My daughter will be student teaching in just few short weeks.  She is extremely nervous because she does not like the unknown.  She likes to have her ducks in a row, and sometimes with life (and teaching), the ducks just don't cooperate and line up as we would like.

Last night she attended a meet and greet with supervising teachers, cooperative teachers, and other student teachers.  She was given a couple of compliments by teachers which made her feel more confident, and I could tell she was excited.

And then it happened.

I saw the magic.

No, it was not Christmas magic.

I saw the magic of life.  The magic of being on the threshold of the real world, anxiously awaiting the crossover.  There is no greater happiness for me as a mom than to see the magic - at any age.  I am smiling like the dad in the commercial, believing in magic and knowing everything will be fine.

Thursday, November 20, 2014


Every Thursday Holly Mueller from Reading, Teaching, Learning, creates a place where readers can share their spiritual journeys.

I have to admit something - I cheated a little today.  I used part of a post from Slice of Life as my gratitude post today because the words are worth repeating,

A few weeks ago, I came across a tweet about a girl named Brittany Maynard. Brittany was a young woman who had a terminal brain tumor and chose to end her life on her own terms before the cancer did it for her.  This story grabbed my heart and did not let go.

This post is not about what she did because it is not my place to judge.  It is about what she said.  I am sure being face to face with one's mortality would be the catalyst to change and the inspiration to very deep thinking.  As I read her obituary, I was inspired by her words.

It is people who pause to appreciate life and give thanks who are happiest.  If we change our thoughts, we change our world!  Love and peace to you all." ~ Brittany Maynard

Her words made me question whether I am pausing or am I racing through this one life I have.  Am I assuming the people in my life know I am thankful, or am I letting them know before it is too late.  I like to think I am a grateful person, but I know there are many times when I do not pause.

Reading Brittany's words gave me a nudge.  She knew her days were numbered.  I know my days in this life are numbered too.  The only difference is she made the best of those days she had left.  She chose to change her world by changing her thoughts. Seems rather simplistic, but the magnitude of her words could be life changing.

Today, I pause.  

                        Today, I reflect.  

Today, I thank.

                        Today, I challenge you to do the same.

"And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." ~Colossians 3:17