Tuesday, February 28, 2012


Slice of Life is sponsored every Tuesday by Stacey and Ruth from Two Writing Teachers 

Doesn’t just the word conjure up images of skipping through the woods at springtime? Yep, that’s how I feel too. Seriously, my husband Chris always does our taxes. My job is to gather all of my school receipts and total them up in an Excel sheet for him.

Tonight he came upstairs and asked if I realized how much of my salary went back into my classroom this year. Hmm. Hadn’t thought of it that way. I knew what the total was – I had added it up myself. Wasn’t the highest amount ever but wasn’t low either.

Chris pointed out that I had spent 8% of my salary on books, office supplies, and miscellaneous items for my class. He told me to go for an even 10% and call it a tithe.
J But then he went on to say how ridiculous he finds this. To have any books in my classroom I have to spend money, there is no money set aside for classroom libraries. Chris said here we can see how all classrooms are not “created equal.” Obviously not all teachers can put this amount of money into their rooms, and maybe they shouldn’t anyway.  I am absolutely aware that I am a bit insane. But thinking about our economy, I can help but shake my head.

There are people who make my salary five times over. They can write off about everything they do. They aren’t pouring 8% of their salary back into their job. And yet, here I am. And here are countless of other teachers. Working for low salaries, having more asked of them then ever before. Being talked about in the media – not for the dedication to their profession; not for their love for their students; not for the sleepless nights spent worrying about lessons, students, their home lives, test scores. I can’t do much about that. What I can do is continue to work hard – not for praise from others, but because it is what I do. I will continue to ensure that my own children’s teachers know how much I appreciate them and what they do each and every day. And I will continue to spend money on my classroom. Anyone up for a trip to Barnes and Noble?

Sunday, February 26, 2012

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I’m joining Jen & Kellee (and many other bloggers) in discussing what we are reading this week. Join us! Go to their site and link up your own blog.

Another week has gone by and more characters I have met. It was a wonderful week of reading. I’ve noted any particular favorites with an *.

·      We Are Not Eaten by Yaks by C. Alexander London *
·      Another Brother by Matthew Cordell *
·      Paper Towns by John Green *
·      Runner’s World: The Runner’s Diet by Madelyn H. Fernstrom
·      Petunia Goes Wild by Paul Schmid *
·      Plant a Kiss by Amy Krouse Rosenthal *
·      Otto the Book Bear by Katie Cleminson *
·      And Then It’s Spring by Julie Fogliano *
·      One Cool Friend by Toni Buzzeo *
·      Shen of the Sea by Arthur Bowie Chrisman
·      Glory Be by Augusta Scattergood *

Woo Hoo! That was one heck of a week of good reading. What’s next? Time to see where my mood takes me. To run my hands over my to read shelves and see what calls my name. Enjoy the week!


Friday, February 24, 2012


World Read Aloud Day (WRAD) is almost upon us – March 7th this year. I’ve already shared here what the day is and how I have celebrated in the past. This year the day falls right during our state testing. When debating on what to do to celebrate, I decided to just focus on reading to my students on a local level. I typed up the blog about WRAD and sent out an email to the teachers in my district and asked if they would be interested in participating.

The emails began rolling in. Elementary, Middle School, High School. Classroom teachers, special teachers, administrators. English teachers, math teachers, AP Chemistry teachers, Agriculture teachers, and more. We are small district, but as of right now around 45 teachers have signed up. Each day I get another email from another teacher. To say I am grateful for their participation is an understatement.

Yesterday a journalist from our tiny local paper came to interview me asking, What is this World Read Aloud Day we’re hearing about. I attempted to explain it. It isn’t my idea, I’m just passing it on. We talked about reading aloud to children, why it was important, and literacy rates. Then, she asked me a question that made me stop and think. What did I hope to accomplish with this event?

First, I don’t really think of this as my event. I sent an email to the staff at my amazing district. Beyond that, I am not really “doing” anything. But, why should we bring attention to this in our school or in our town? I had a few reasons. One, by having teachers and administrators read to our students we show them that we do believe literacy is important. We give them another reading role model. I am beyond grateful that English teachers are signing up, but I loved seeing Science and Math teachers there as well. Sometimes I think the kids just assume I love reading – I’m their reading teacher. Having others read to them to shows that it isn’t just me.

But what else do I hope we accomplish? By the newspaper running a story, I hope we are just one more reminder to parents about the benefit to reading with your children. Schedules and lives are busy. I know for many parents once their children can read, shared reading comes to a halt. And I get that. But some of the best experiences in our family have been through shared books. (Lately, the book WONDER) And it doesn’t always have to be chapter books. My boys and I shared I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen with Chris last year. An amazing picture book that became part of our family conversation.

Are you participating in WRAD? Please sign up at the site. And spread the word – they are trying to do some amazing things in the name of literacy.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Thoughts on Test Prep

Slice of Life is sponsored every Tuesday by Stacey and Ruth from Two Writing Teachers

Slice of Life – my mind was spinning. What to write about today? What small moments have happened that I can reflect upon? And then, I checked my Google Reader. Ruth had written a post on Test Prep on Two Writing Teachers. I clicked over, read it. I found myself nodding at my computer. A few times I said, “YES!” as I read. This is something I’m a little passionate about. So, if it is ok, my reflection today will focus on it.

Here in Illinois we are preparing for TESTING SEASON. Ok, made that up. But isn’t it a bit like hunting? Seriously, our state tests are called the ISATs and they begin the first full week of March. So how do I prepare? Should we drill and kill?
J Love that phrase. It says a lot, doesn’t it? Should we devote the entire month (or year) to preparing for the test? I know it is tempting. I know there is more pressure than ever for our kids to pass these flipping tests, but I still say no.

Now, while I say this it is with a caveat. I do think teaching “test taking” as a genre isn’t a bad idea. I think I first heard that idea from Nancie Atwell. Writing for these types of tests requires a different type of writing than what we normally do in workshop. The kids don’t get the chance to draft, revise, draft some more, conference, etc. I do show them how to read a prompt, think about what it says, write a response. We talk about how you can eliminate choices you know are incorrect when reading a question. How to look back at a text for an answer, etc. But, I don’t spend a lot of time on it. Honestly, I think if you are cramming that much in at the last minute, it won’t help anyway.

And, here’s the thing, my son Luke will be taking the test for the first time this year as a third grader. I’m pretty confident when he’s 18 I will have no idea how he did on his third grade ISATs. But I will remember when he began reading the book WONDER by R.J. Palacio. (Thursday, February 16th if you want the date) I will remember how he would curl up with me, listen to me read. How he’d question why kids can be that mean. How he’d ask if there are truly parents who don’t care about their kids like Miranda’s and Julian’s. How he got tears in his eyes when reading one certain part. How he said he wished he could be Auggie’s friend. These things I will remember, the year my son fell in love with a book. The year I knew he was a reader. That is a gift. His score on the ISAT will not show me that he can connect with a book. The tear stained, spilled upon, worn pages of WONDER does. And, contrary to many people’s opinion, this can be taught. And the workshop model is the perfect way to teach it.

So will my students be ready for the ISAT? I think so. I’ve tried to demystify the test. We’ve read, we’ve discussed, we’ve connected to stories, to words, to articles, to characters. They know I believe in them and I think many are finally believing in themselves. And while I see them bend over their test booklets on March 6th, I will say a prayer. For them not to get anxious, to do their best, and that our country will wake up soon and remember what is important. It isn’t the numbers, the scores, it is the kids. And those scores do not tell the whole story. 

It's Monday! What are you reading?

I’m joining Jen & Kellee (and many other bloggers) in discussing what we are reading this week. Join us! Go to their site and link up your own blog.

I read several books this week, many wonderful. I also began a reread of Wonder by R.J. Palacio. If you have somehow missed this WONDERful book, remedy that immediately. I am reading it to my 9 year old right now. I’m not going fast enough, though, so he’s reading on his own during the day. It will be my next classroom read aloud. It’s that good.

But here’s what I read this week (with ** by any books I truly enjoyed):

·      Middle School is Worse Than Meatloaf: A Year Told Through Stuff by Jenni Holm **
·      An Abundance of Katherines by John Green **
·      Bad Kitty Meets the Baby by Nick Bruel
·      Bad Kitty for President by Nick Bruel
·      Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of his Trip to Heaven and Back by Todd Burpo
·      Andy and the Lion by James Daugherty (#nerdcott)
·      Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans (#nerdcott) **
·      Fortune Cookies by Albert Bitterman
·      April’s Kittens by Clare Turlay Newberry (#nerdcott)
·      Seven Simeons: A Russian Tale by Boris Artzybasheff (#nerdcott)
·      Paddle-to-the-Sea by Holling Clancy Holling (#nerdcott)
·      Mei LI by Thomas Handforth (#nerdcott)
·      Fig Pudding by Ralph Fletcher **
·      Looking at Lincoln by Maria Kalman **
·      A Boy Called Dickens by Deborah Hopkinson **

I’m currently reading:

And I’m impatiently waiting for this book because it is next on my #nerdbery list.

I have several other #nerdybery books here but I’m trying to read in order so I’m waiting.

What did you read this week?

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Reading Moments

I woke up this morning thinking that I needed a topic for a blog post. Ideas raced around in my mind. I’ve been thinking a lot about beginning teachers. The last two years have brought me four student teachers, all wonderful, but they make me consider what it important. I’ve been thinking of some post related to that. I have many books I need to review. Some reflections on what is happening in my classroom popped to my mind. But then, I listened to Frankie Sibberson’s podcast on Choice Literacy with Donalyn Miller, Colby Sharp, and Cindy Minnich. And my topic was there.

Listening to their conversation made me think about my reading life. The reading communities I am part of online, my classroom reading communities, and my reading life at home. I thought today I’d simply list some wonderful reading moments from this week. Honestly, this was a rough week. One of those where you think, “Why am I doing this?” But always, always, when I sit back and look at the bigger picture, I am grateful. So here are my bright spots from the week of reading.

Entering my colleague, Wendy Stokowski’s, classroom to ask her a question and having our conversation be continually interrupted by students who had to tell me what they had read the previous night. They were buzzing with excitement about reading.

A text message from a teaching aide, Buffie Burket, telling me that she was enjoying John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars that I had lent her. She had been telling her college age kids about it and they had told her they loved him, the Vlog Brothers, and Nerdfighters.

My friend, Wendy, pulling me out of my classroom to look into hers. In the back of the room there was a table of boys using iPads because it was “choice” time where you could grab one to play some apps or work on their research paper. In the middle of that table was a boy who Donalyn Miller would classify as a dormant reader. He had his nose buried in a book. (School’s Out Forever by James Patterson) Yay! I did an impromptu jig in the hall. He was choosing reading over iPads? Sweet!

Having a student shout out, “Where’s my copy of Knuckleheads?” And three other kids helped her find it and then shared their favorite chapters. (Crossing Swords was mentioned several times)

Talking with one of my IEP students about the Babymouse series and having him tell me he connects with Babymouse because she has a vivid imagination, and so does he, but his isn’t pink. J

Conferencing with a student and discussing why we love reading series books AFTER they have already all come out so we don’t have to wait for the next one.

And, finally, reading Wonder by R.J. Palacio with my son, Luke, this week. We just began Thursday night. It is already one of my favorite reading experiences with him. I got to the part where the parents are telling Auggie that the principal’s name is Mr. Tushman. As I read I wondered if Luke knew that “tush” was a term for butt. Then I glanced to my right and saw him with his hands over his mouth, giggling. Yep, he got it.

Those are just a few examples of reading moments I’ve had this week. I wish I could tally every time some child comes up to tell me what has happened in their books unprompted, it is huge. I think that alone tells me that reading is becoming a major part of my students’ lives. I can’t wait to see their growth by May; I think it will be amazing.

Today Luke and I are headed to the bookstore because I need more books. (Need, want – those terms are a bit fuzzy when it comes to books.) I will have a stack of books to dive into and a long weekend to do just that. Have a great weekend everyone!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Wonder R.J. Palacio

How do I review a book as amazing as R.J. Palacio’s Wonder? Let me backtrack to how I came to meet this amazing book.

I watched with intense jealous a few weeks ago as Colby Sharp and John Schu exchanged tweets about this book. (click on their names to go to their site and Wonder blog posts)

Then Franki Sibberson read it.

It began to be talked about more and more. Oh how I wanted this book.

Luckily for me, John Schu had a giveaway on his website. I never win these things so I almost didn’t enter. But sure enough, I did!

I waited, and waited, and it arrived last Wednesday night. Oh the humanity! My only night of grad school. It was as if I had morphed back into thirteen year old me. I had the book hidden behind my laptop as I tried to sneak a quick read during the class. Drove home, stayed up the rest of the night to finish it. Yowza. This book packs a powerful punch.

Wonder follows the story of  fifth grader Auggie Pullman. He hit the genetic lottery and was born with severe facial deformities resulting from a condition called Treacher Collins.

Auggie has always been homeschooled due to his medical needs and his parents’ fears over how kids might treat him. This year they have decided it is time to try out public school.

Wonder follows Auggie in his journey through his first year in public school. As a teacher, I appreciated that Palacio didn’t make the kids either all evil or all good, there was a mixture of reactions in the way the kids treated Auggie, which I think would be accurate.

I loved how Palacio switched the point of view occasionally. While sometimes I didn’t want to be pulled out of Auggie’s head, it was helpful to see what his sister was thinking, or his friends.

I think this book is a gift. It will lead to amazing discussions in classrooms about Auggie’s courage, the need for kindness, and the fact that bravery can take many forms. And while I received my copy as a gift, I will be purchasing one for my oldest son’s class, my school library, his school’s library, and another one for my classroom. Wonder is available for purchase on Valentine’s Day and I can’t think of a better gift.

Enjoy this beautiful book. 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

It's Monday! What are you reading?

 I’m joining Jen & Kellee (and many other bloggers) in discussing what we are reading this week. Join us! Go to their site and link up your own blog.

Welcome back my beloved picture books, I have missed you so. This week did end with several books being read – many great ones – but no #nerdbery or #nerdcott. I have several requested at the library, we’ll see when they all arrive.

Here’s what I read this week, favorites are indicated by an *

·      Wonder by R.J. Palacio * (This is amazing. I’m buying five copies when it comes out on Tuesday. No exaggeration.)
·      Looking for Alaska by John Green * (I now have a crush on John Green. The man is brilliant.)
·      Grandpa’s Tractor by Michael Garland
·      A Storm Called Katrina by Myron Uhlberg
·      Desk Stories by Kevin O’Malley
·      The Day Tiger Rose Said Goodbye by Jane Yolen *
·      Fox and Hen Together by Beatrice Rodriguez
·      Smile, Lily by Candace Fleming
·      Muncha! Muncha! Muncha! By Candace Fleming
·      Clever Jack takes the Cake by Candace Fleming
·      Seven Hungry Babies by Candace Fleming
·      Brother Sun, Sister Moon by Katherine Paterson *
·      How the Dinosaur Got to the Museum by Jessie Hartland
·      Harry Houdini: The Legend of the World’s Greatest Escape Artist by Janice Weaver
·      Two Bobbies: A True Story of Hurricane Katrina, Friendship, and Survival by Kirby Larson *

This week I want to finish my current book:

And read this:

And whatever comes in from the library. Have a wonderful week!