Finding the inner reader in each student…

It is hard for me to imagine someone who doesn’t LOVE to read. However I raised one… not sure how, but my youngest daughter just wasn’t interested; she was proficient and skilled but just didn’t love it. It wasn’t until she stumbled on a series that spoke to her that she found her inner reader.  She still isn’t the reader I had hoped for, but she’s found her inner reader because she was hooked by that one book that opened up a new world for her.

For these reasons, I promote choice as much as possible. In the classroom, I will present texts to students that I want them to read for common or shared experiences and learning goals, but I also present options where they choose their texts in our stations. My next goal: encourage and support reading outside of my classroom.  With essentially less than one hour 5 days a week to work with children, this has been the hardest thing for me to do. Therefore I have a few ways I hope to get to know what my students are reading independently more so that I can do a better job of encouraging and recommending other great reads to help them find their inner reader.

For my 3rd graders, I encourage families to send me photos of their children holding texts they are reading so that I can put them on a “digital reading wall”. This allows me to see the variety of interests children have.

For example, here’s Tucker’s wall:

Screen Shot 2017-08-27 at 8.47.31 AM.png

I can tell a few things about Tucker as a reader just from these photos: (1) he’s an avid reader (2) he seems to like fantasy where events take place in the “real world” but include unreal elements (3) ADVENTURE and action appeal to him! (4) he seems loyal to certain authors. This information can help me recommend other texts to Tucker, although I get the impression that he’s pretty successful hunting on his own!

This year I’m trying something new with my 4th graders: a 40 book challenge! I believe that kids do not know what they might like because they haven’t tried it yet! For this reason, I hope to encourage children to explore different genres. And I’m taking the challenge myself! As I was setting this up, I included “memoirs” as a category and I stumbled across El Deafo, which is a memoir AND a graphic novel. Instantly I was skeptical because graphic novels haven’t really appealed to me, but WOW was I surprised. I loved this book! Who knew?! All because I challenged myself to read “outside of my box”.

So the challenge is to read 40 books this year… but to read across a variety of fiction and nonfiction genres. Read 2 books in each category for that category ‘badge’. There are 3 categories that could be fiction or nonfiction: poetry anthology, drama, and picture books (and picture books is the only category where I am seeking “4”).  Here’s a video explaining it better…

40 book challenge.jpgSo I hope that through digital reading walls and the 40 book challenge I can help students find their inner reader self!

The why behind the what…

I prefer to be transparent. That is, I want all of the families I serve to have access to what I am doing with their children and WHY. Often I make instructional decisions for very specific, targeted reasons.  One of those decisions is to have my students read a few novels together.

Sounds like a “one size fits all approach” but I disagree. I am a huge advocate of student choice in reading and I try to help children find texts that they love and can’t put down. Yet here I am telling all of my 4th graders they HAVE to read Ella Enchanted. Yes I know; not a text many would pick up by choice and the audience it appeals to is limited. So WHY?

While we will build reading/thinking strategies with student selected texts, there is something about having us all read the same text as well that builds a sense of community. We have a shared experience of reading the same author’s words. We can discuss the same events and characters. We can have the same reference points for literary analysis. What is different is HOW we each will read it.

Each individual brings his or her unique set of experiences and thinking to any text. What I might see in a passage could mean something different for one of my students. I find that often if I ask more ‘open’ questions like “What surprised you?” or “What do you think about _____?” I hear insights that would have never occurred to me.  For this reason, I encourage students to read through their own unique lens and share any thinking the text gave them. (On a side note, as a teacher I facilitated a fantastic book study on Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters)

Here’s the introductory video I made for students:

That being said, I will direct attention to specific aspects about a text to notice and note. For instance, our first “assignment” is to read chapters 1-3 of Ella Enchanted for discussion. I have a “task guide” that allows students to have direction to their thinking, but leaves room for unique interpretations.

Ella chap 1-3

My approach is also to let students choose their level of engagement. If they wish to just to the minimum, they can. But I hope that I will inspire them

to strive to do more. In this way, I can meet my responsibility to meet curricular goals and standards, but still give students freedom and a level of choice.

The key part in all of this however is the weekly discussion where we come together and students get time to just TALK about what they have read.  It is very powerful.


Finally, why Ella Enchanted (as boys tend to groan)… well one of our goals is to examine traditional literature and fairy tales as a genre and I love to challenge students to consider basic motifs. By reading the longer novel, comparison to shorter versions of a similar plot are easier. I have around 30 different versions of “Cinderella” from many different cultures, including Bubba the Cowboy Prince and The Irish Cinderlad so comparing and contrasting takes the experience to an even higher level. Motifs


I cannot wait to listen to the conversations and for the great thinking to begin!



Getting ready for a FANTASTIC 2017-2018 school year!

I am beyond excited! This year is going to be fantastic! Last summer I had foot surgery and started the year not being able to walk… then with a larger than ever group of students (almost 90 a day), I found the year to be a busy whirlwind… needless to say, this blog was a bit “neglected”. I am determined to do better!

Let’s start with a “welcome tour” to the classroom! I have made some changes to the layout of the classroom so returning students will note differences. New friends, I hope you enjoy this brief “tour of the room” video:

Now starting a new year would not be complete without a bit of reflection… So here’s “how I spent my summer vacation”:

  • I ran one college course for teachers this year on phonics fundamentals and a summer book study for teachers across the state on Disrupting Thinking. These endeavors kept me busy and growing as a professional.
  • As an ELA leader I worked on designing a phonics scope and sequence for K-4 teachers. It was a HUGE undertaking and I’m proud of the work my “partner” and I have done. I look forward to this helping any child!
  • I was honored to co-present a session with a fellow educator from NY for teachers at the International Literacy Association’s annual convention in Orlando.  I got to meet the authors of Disrupting Thinking and was a “guest sketchnoter” at Tanny McGregor’s ILA session.

    (Sketchnoting is a fantastic way to process and synthesize what we hear and read… I use it as a learner and encourage students to use as well. For more info, here’s an article I wrote on it for the Ohio Journal of English Language Arts)

  • While in Orlando, I enjoyed Universal Studios with teacher friends I met from Illinois and went to Disney for 3 days with my best girlfriend!
  • As my own children are grown (my youngest is turning 23 today!), my husband and I have enjoyed time with each other and friends. I have enjoyed driving around in the sun in my jeep, my patio and small pool, and READING! I have read so many great books this summer…many of which I can recommend to the children!
  • I also tried to keep up with the “summer book club” option I offered 3rd to 4th graders and did some participating in a summer book club of my own.


Passion Projects!

Screen Shot 2017-02-18 at 2.00.21 PM.pngIndependent study projects offer students a great deal of choice in their learning. The challenge however is when do I fit it all in? Since Passion Projects focus primarily on research and presentation standards (which fall under writing and speaking/listening standards), they are not part of the curriculum that I am responsible for. For this reason, I do not include these as part of the in class work we do.

Needless to say, they hold so much value and in the past students who have taken the initiative to do one have found them to be VERY rewarding! Check out our Green Room Virtual Museum to see! (note that some projects load VERY slowly!) Here are a few where video was used in sharing what was learned as it is a popular choice:

Please note that Passion Projects are intended to be done independently and at home. (If a student wishes to use Green Room resources or materials they will need to schedule a time during their recess to come in and work). Class time will not be devoted to these projects, however I will be virtually available for students to ask questions so access to their school Google accounts from home is a must.

To be eligible for a passion project as a 3rd grader, students must have earned at least a “Level 5” responding to text badge and must sign a contract. 4th graders are always welcome to do one on their own!