Monday, April 25, 2016


Thank you Two Writing Teachers for creating this space for me to share my corner of the world.

It's Monday night and my vacation/snow make-up day is winding down.  My plan for Tuesday was to start our last round of book clubs.  Groups are made and book choices are decided for each class period.  I was ready to go...that was until I received an email announcement from our state Department of Education.

The quarterback from the Indianapolis Colts, Andrew Luck, has started a book club.  I knew he was a reader because I have read news articles and watched video clips about his love of reading and how he recommends books to other players.  But hearing about his book club is making me ecstatic!

His mission is:  to share some of the books I've enjoyed, and to build a continually-growing community of readers of all levels by engaging through social media.  

Isn't this what we all want for our students?

When I received the announcement that he was doing this book club, I put my plans on hold.  I knew this was something I wanted to offer my students.  The best part of this is that I already have 50+ copies of the book he has chosen - Maniac Magee.

Last week I wrote about our social studies teacher creating The Crossover Club.  I now have students begging to read that book.  In order for a reading community to happen, we need others besides ELA teachers to join forces through sharing books and their reading lives with students.  Just like what Andrew Luck is doing.  

Creating a reading community is not a one-person job.  It not just a reading teacher's job.  

It is everyone's.

I look forward to sharing this announcement with my students, sharing their thoughts on social media, and letting them know that even NFL players are readers.  

Thank you, Andrew, for sharing your love of reading with all of us.

Please click on the link below to get more information on how you can join this reading movement.  Then share on social media using the hashtag #ALBookClub.  Let's create a reading revolution.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Beyond "The Way We Have Always Done It"

Digilit Sunday

Today I am participating in Digital Learning Sunday with Margaret Simon at Reflections on the Teche.  This week Margaret has encouraged us to write about "form."  Although this is Poetry Month and many are thinking about poetry forms, I am thinking about "format" and the ways in which literacy can be presented.

The words "we've always done it that way" are words we as teachers hear and sometimes possibly even say.  There is something to be said about "tradition" and certain ways of doing things, but we also need to be open to the changing world of education through the use of technology.

Our school district has a research fair which is open to our 4th and 5th grade high ability students. The students research a topic, write bibliography cards and 50-60 notecards, create an outline, write a 7-9 page paper and give a 20 minute presentation.  What these students do at this age level is absolutely amazing. 

For years the students have used traditional presentation boards.  Many of the displays are quite extravagant, as you can see in this picture.  

The past few years it has been suggested to integrate more technology, but using technology brings with it a set of problems such as having the equipment, screens, and power sources.  Using technology has also been resisted by many because of those words, "we have always done it this way."

I was a research coach/facilitator for 6 years and for the last two years I have been a judge.  This entire experience is so valuable for our students.  Writing a research paper of this caliber gives these students an advantage and will be a benefit to them throughout their educational years.  But I am afraid if we don't find a way to use technology in this experience, the program will be eliminated.

This year's research fair was held Saturday, and one student bravely made the change in format.  She was the only one who did not have a presentation board. 

Instead, she had a screen as her backdrop and created a PowerPoint which included a video clip, as the visual to her presentation.  And it was magnificent.  (I even got to wear Harry Potter's sorting hat and drink butter beer!)  I was honored to be her judge and to see her raise the bar and set the new standard.

The research process has changed over the years with the use of the Internet and the access of information literally at our fingertips.  However, students still need to know how to thoroughly research a topic and synthesize that information into a well written paper. 

But because of technology, presenting the information has unlimited possibilities...if we are brave enough to think beyond "the way we have always done it."

Saturday, April 23, 2016

We All Need Rockstars ~ Celebrate #10

Each week Ruth Ayres extends an invitation to share and celebrate events, big or small, from our week. 

We all need Rockstars.  

Two years ago was a rockstar summer for me.  
I met Ruth and many other bloggers at All Write.  We sat in the gazebo and talked like we had known each other for years.  Little did they know I was literally giddy with excitement.

At that same conference, I found myself in the same elevator with Donalyn Miller and Katerine Sokowloski.  Talk about a rockstar moment!

I have seen Kelly Gallagher, Kate Roberts, and so many others since then.  Recently, I was telling my principal and assistant principal how excited I was about finding out that Penny Kittle was going to be at All Write this summer.  My principal shook his head, laughed and said, "You are such a nerd."  He doesn't know how proud I am of that title.

Sometimes it is difficult for me to remember that not everyone gets excited about literacy rockstars like I do.  

My daughter is one of those people, but she has her own kind of rockstars - basketball rockstars.  Friday she attended a coaching conference and met...again...Tamika Catchings, a former player for the Tennessee Lady Vols and current WNBA player. She has also met Pat Summitt, the legendary coach for the University of Tennessee.  

We all need these types of mentors and role models in our lives.  Even as adults.  They keep us motivated and push us to be better than we are today.  They inspire us to dream and to believe in ourselves.  It doesn't matter if they are authors, literacy gurus, athletes or even blogging or Twitter "friends."

We all need Rockstars.

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

Friday, April 22, 2016


It is that time of year when inadequacy permeates my thoughts, and I feel as if I am under a microscope.  I do not like to dwell in the negativity of testing, but it is a part of our educational culture.  As teachers, testing and the data gleaned from it is something we all must deal with.

Last week I gave the STAR reading test to monitor how much my students grew as readers this year.  As I explained to my students, this "number" is just one snapshot of their reading growth.  But I was still discouraged by the results.

I have put much time and effort toward changing the reading culture in my classroom this year, and I really wanted my efforts to be visible in these tests results.  I do not have a lot of faith in the STAR test, but I know people in high places look at these scores and want to see improvement in reading levels.

Today I listened to Penny Kittle's podcast with Donalyn Miller about independent reading.  You can listen to all of the Book Love Foundation podcasts here.

In this interview, Penny talked about all the pillars which hold up our readers. One pillar is all the tools to help students find books in hopes of finding at least one which will keep them reading. Other pillars are a place to read, access to books, and time to read in school to accommodate their busy schedules.

Listening to this podcast, I realized that teachers are also a pillar, maybe the most important one.  I know I have made a difference in the reading lives of some of my students, although I may not have seen this in their scores last week.

A student recently wrote in a card that she has probably never read this many books in one year before.  I had another student tell me I had changed him into a reader.  I know I have not reached all of my students, but without these pillars, I have to wonder where they would be?

I don't need a test score, a level, or a number to be hold up my students.  I spent a year putting the pillars Penny talks about in place.  When they leave me in just a few short weeks, I know what a difference these pillars have made in their reading lives.  And I don't need a reading level to tell me any different.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

You Say You Want a Revolution

Connecting students with books is one of the most challenging, yet most important part of my job as an ELA teacher.  For me, it is also the most enjoyable part.  But when I have the support from the teachers around me, my job becomes much easier.

A month ago, I convinced a fellow teacher and basketball coach to read The Crossover by Kwame Alexander.   He loved it, as I knew he would.  Reading this book allowed him to start conversations with our students which led to the creation of "Mr. Connor's Crossover Club."  The club is open to anyone who has read the book.  But here's the kicker - kids are now begging to read this book...and I teach middle school students.

I asked my colleague what made him decide to do this.  

"After talking about my reading experience in class, I noticed several students were reading The Crossover.  I wanted to show my excitement over the number of students reading the book, so we created our new club.  Kids are excited about being in it.  I even had one student go directly to your classroom to get the book and come back to show me that she was now 'in the club'."
This experience is just one example of how our own reading lives are important to students.  Taking the time to share books we read and making students a part of a reading club culture is a key to creating lifelong readers.

If we want to show students the joy in reading, it must go beyond the ELA teachers and the ELA classrooms.  It takes the entire school community.  We don't need incentives or points or prizes.  We need the simple act of every teacher sharing our reading lives and placing great books into students' hands.

Just imagine if each of our colleagues read a book and shared it with students like Mr. Connor did, what a reading revolution we could start in our schools.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Wise Words from a Seventh Grader - Celebrate #9

Each week Ruth Ayres extends an invitation to share and celebrate events, big or small, from our week.  

I have had a new friend this week.  Actually, we have become quite close given the fact she has made me extremely frustrated at times.  She has rarely left my side for the last ten days.  But she is the reason why I can't neatly write, 

why I can't tightly tie my shoes,

why I can't open a gallon a milk,

why I can't use my computer very well,

why I can't wear a belt.  

Just when I started complaining, whining, and feeling sorry myself because my hand is in a splint, and I can't use my thumb, a former student writes me a note and puts everything back in perspective.

"I heard about your arm and what happened and hope that it heals...Things happen for a reason.  Some things you won't like and some that are the best thing possible...a reason that no one knows why.  I think you can be taught a lesson on what there is to do with one hand.  Remembering the things you could do with two hands, imagine the things you can do with one...Be strong, it'll be over later."

Such wise words from a seventh grader.  I think I need to listen.

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

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Get Well Cards - Celebrate #8

Each week Ruth Ayres extends an invitation to share and celebrate events, big or small, from our week.  

This week I celebrate my students.

I had a little accident on Wednesday which caused me to miss two days of school.  I fell and landed face first in a parking lot.  Needless to say, my face is pretty messed up, and I may have a fractured thumb. Few people have seen me, but I look like I have a gone a round with Rocky.  I spent the last two days icing to get the swelling down and going to doctor appointments. 

Friday night I went back to school to gather up the work students completed while I was gone and to just check on things.  Much to my surprise I found a stack of get well cards on my desk.

Remember, I do not teach primary grades where cards are fun to make with pretty hearts and flowers and created with markers.

I teach middle school students where words sometimes escape them and showing empathy for a teacher may not be the cool thing to do.  

Their words and pictures made me smile and sometimes even laugh out loud...which hurts by the way.

Many of them commented on how much more time I would have to read - they know me so well.

This student wants me to come back so I will bring him a book I have at home.

Sometimes middle school students are a difficult age to understand.  Not so with these students.  I get them and they get me, and that is a celebration.

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

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

My Corner of the World

Thank you Two Writing Teachers for creating this space for me to share my corner of the world.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live in another part of the world?  Or even another part of our own country?

Last week Julieanne at To Read To Write To Be wrote about her trip to Catalina Island with her students.  I remembered reading about her trip last year, and I was so envious. I know many of my students will never see the ocean in real life.  Yes, they will read books and articles about it and even watch something on screen.  

But to actually...

hear the sound of waves crashing on shore?

see nothing but water as far as the eye can see?

walk along a beach and pick up shells carried in from the ocean's waves?

see marine life in its own ecosystem?

Many of my students will never experience that.  

Thinking about this, made me realize how different our students' background experiences really are.  I began wondering about Julieanne's students.

Have they ever seen a snowflake?

Have they ever been in a cave, stretching deep into the bowels of Earth?

Do they get to see the leaves on the oak and maple trees turn colors and walk in them when they fall to the ground?

Have they ever heard the singing cadence of spring cicadas?

Have they ever hugged a tree so big that it takes several students to wrap their connected arms around it?

Have they ever hunted for mushrooms under the winter foliage?

Photo by Flickr

Have they ever watched the life cycle of a corn or bean field, from planting to harvest?

Maybe we take for granted what we experience every day.  

What might be something your kids will never see?  

What might be something you would like to share from your corner of the world?

Sunday, April 3, 2016


Digilit Sunday

I have participated just a few times in Digital Learning Sunday with Margaret Simon at Reflections on the Teche.  Today, Margaret has called those who participated in the #TheEdCollabGathering to share our reflections.

My school district has been grappling with professional development.  They are trying to find the best ways to engage teachers in topics we find relevant to our teaching. This is not an easy task.

I have always believed that we learn best from each other.  Teachers are busy, and we do not always have the time to share and collaborate with each other.  Teachers need the time to share ideas and what works in our own classrooms.  We need the time to learn from each other.

And that is exactly what I did on Saturday.  But not with the teachers from my own district.  It was with teachers from all over the country.

Saturday was a beautiful, yet very windy day, here in southern Indiana, but I spent the day glued to my computer and iPad, immersed in the PD provided by Christopher Lehman and the The Educator Collaborative. I have tried to summarize my learning to keep this blog post concise, but this was not easy because the learning was amazing.

Session #4 Let Them Read:  Independent Reading at the Secondary Level by Heather Rocco and Chatham teachers  The teachers in this English department made it a goal to place independent reading as a priority.  They shared how independent reading looks in their classroom through the why, the structure, the assessment and the community building.  My biggest take-away from this session is the importance of the whole department making independent reading a priority.  Yes, I will always place reading high in my classroom, but it is to no avail if teachers in the following years do not support it.

Session #7 - Crafting Details:  Teaching Students to Elaborate and Add Details with Roz Linder.  Roz has a new book out, The Big Book of Details, which teaches how to be specific when we tell students to "add more details."  She showed several craft moves such as "Right in the Middle" where students add details as appositive phrases.  I will be ordering this book very soon.  My biggest take-away is that we need to use explicit strategies when teaching students how to add details.

Session #12 - Choice as the Keystone in Secondary English Classes with Amy Rasmussen and Shana Karnes. I want to teach like these two teachers - a true workshop classroom.  This session felt like a conversation I would have with Amy and Shana after school in my classroom about choice, classroom libraries, and conferences with students.  My biggest take-away from this session is that compliance is not always engagement.  Choice must be a part of the culture in my classroom, and it is not too late in the school year to starting adding elements of choice.

Session #14 - Maximize Independent Writing Time by Creating Conferring Toolkits  with Two Writing Teachers  I lingered a little in this session, but I did not stay because it tugged at my elementary heart, and I am now a middle school teacher.  The needs of middle school writers are different, yet I still think I can create a middle school conferring toolbox.  

Closing Session - The Right Tool for the Job with Kate Roberts and Maggie Beattie Roberts  Kate and Maggie's new book is DIY Literacy which is all about using tools to help students.  My biggest take-away from this session is the demonstration notebook, and I immediately put a sketchbook on my Walmart list.  I see so many areas where this notebook can not only help me, but also help my students.  Kate and Maggie have started a new video series about these tools, and their first one features the demonstration notebooks.

At the beginning of their session, Kate said, "This day is a testament to our profession."  What other profession has over 10,000 people spending the day together to become better at what they do and to learn from each other?  

Today was PD at its best, and today makes me proud to be a teacher.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Research Papers - Celebrate #7

Each week Ruth Ayres extends an invitation to share and celebrate events, big or small, from our week.  Won't you join us?

I know I said I wasn't going to write anymore about my son's research paper.  But...I should know to never say never!

He received his rough draft back Thursday from his professor, and she didn't quite tear it to pieces.  A lot of red ink was used (that will be another post) but I think the revisions are doable.  We He still has work to do, but I think with the changes, it will be a passing paper.  

I don't want to celebrate yet, but I am feeling much better about things!

And since this is National Poetry Month...

red ink shadows 
lurking among the pages
stain a writer's heart

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