where all things literacy come full circle…

The Size of a Basket

Every Tuesday, I participate in the Slice of Life challenge at Two Writing Teachers. If you want to participate, you can link up at their Slice of Life Story Post on Tuesdays or you can just head on over there to check out other people's stories. (I borrowed this from Jen Vincent's blog at

Every Tuesday, I participate in the Slice of Life challenge at Two Writing Teachers. If you want to participate, you can link up at their Slice of Life Story Post on Tuesdays or you can just head on over there to check out other people’s stories. (I borrowed this from Jen Vincent’s blog at

I went into a classroom this past week to take pictures for my Instabrate bulletin board.

As I was browsing around, I saw this picture on a basket.

I do not know it's source.

I do not know it’s source.

I was intrigued.

In all caps it says “YOU ARE LIVING IN A WORLD THAT MANY CHILDREN DREAM OF!” Then it says below “What size of basket will you need for what you are going to learn in school this year?”

I loved the idea of this.

I always tried to engrain in the minds of my students that they were extremely lucky to be able to come to school, to learn, and to be able to be anything that they wanted to be.

I am the first person in my family to graduate with a Masters degree. This was a HUGE accomplishment for me that I really never thought I would be able to achieve, but I was able to.

I always wanted my students to know the power of learning. The power of being educated. The power of what that education brings.

What are your thoughts on this?


Beginning Writer

I was actually quite surprised when I walked into my bedroom tonight. The lights were off, completely pitch black. I looked towards my bed and I saw a lump under the blankets. All of a sudden the darkness became illuminated. Then, it became dark again. I walked a little closer to the lump.



The light came on.

I heard under the blankets, “eh eh eh”. My Kindergartner was lying under the blankets with a small pocket note pad, my book light, and a pen. “Ch ch ch”…”eh eh eh”. A smile came across my face.

His pen was touching the paper writing letters as he was “eh eh eh” sounding out parts of the word. He was concentrating. He was in his flow.

I left to bring the dogs back inside.

When I came back to the pitch black bedroom, I walked towards the lump. Except the lump was laid out snoring. No more sounding out words. No more writing. I picked him up and found the note pad, the book light, and the pen under him. He was out.

Can you find "cheese puffs"?

Can you find “cheese puffs”?

I picked up his note pad.

Earlier, before he became the lump of blankets, he came to me and said he was writing a list to Santa. He also told me that he had to write “cheese puffs”, scrunched up on the same line because “Daddy, cheese puffs is in the sentence.” I laughed.

I am so proud of him for the learner he is becoming. He is reading. He is writing. He is figuring out math. He can count to ten and by tens up to a hundred in Chinese. He teaches me by saying, “Daddy, say “eeee…bbbbb…..i.” I respond, “ebi.” “Daddy, you just said a hundred in Chinese.” He walks around sounding (he says spelling) out words asking me what he is saying. Often times I say, “I don’t know.” He then gives it to me. I guess he doesn’t allow me to preserver. : )

I love him.


What I learned by modeling a lesson

A few weeks ago I was asked to model a math lesson.

To second graders.

This was the first time I had taught the new math program my district adopted. This was the first time I taught a lesson using the common core.

It was a little scary.

Well, okay…it was a lot scary.

You see, I am a staff developer…in other words a coach (and do a lot of other things).

I got onto the the computer portal of the math program and found the area where new updated lesson plans were located. I found the lesson that I was asked to teach, printed it off, and then read, highlighted, read some more, thought about how this was going to work, ran each piece through my mind…basically I over planned. By a lot!

I wanted to model ways to allow for discussion among students.

I created four steps to allow for discussion through modeling:

1. Explain the activity ( you will be discussing this problem with your shoulder partner)

2. Model the activity or how you want students to discuss

3. Set expectations. Students will only rise to your expectations, but they need to know what you expect!

4. Check for understanding. Do students really know what you want them to do? Ask them.

I went through these four steps often. And had students discuss a lot. I wanted my principal and the teacher whose class I was teaching in to know that students CAN learn in a different way.

Some things I learned:

1. Planning is key. You really need to know what the lesson is and where the lesson is going with the idea that you may need to be flexible.

2. As a teacher is teaching a lesson, flexibility is key by changing direction than originally planned. As I was teaching and playing a game called “Quiz-Quiz-Trade” (a Kagan structure), I knew that there were some students who didn’t know how to count by 5s, 10s, and 100’s. Basically they didn’t know place value yet. Because I knew this information by playing the game with the students, I knew that I need to reinforce place value and counting by doing another activity that wasn’t planned. I could also use this information for quick interventions and what I would want those students to do for classwork and homework.

3. Never assume that students will give you “surface” answers to questions. I asked students to give me multiple representations for the number 220. I got expanded form, pictures, words, dollar form, etc. I was blown away by the thought process from second graders.

4. Kids love to discuss. They love to talk. If kids know how to discuss, then they will own their own learning. When kids do the talking, they are the ones learning.

5. Try new things. Kids love it when they are doing new things. Stay away from the rut that programs can often lead to. If the idea that you try flops, that’s okay. Reflect on how and why it flopped and try the idea in a new way to see if it is successful.

6. When having students discuss, they will need to build stamina. If you were to throw me on a track and say run an 800m, I would pass out. I couldn’t do it because I don’t have the stamina to run that long. I would have to start out running super short distances that would lead up to the 800m. This is the same that goes for discussing on topic about a concept in math (or in any other content area). Start by using a timer and saying, “I want you to discuss for 30 seconds”. Then the next day add another 30 seconds for a whole minute and so on.

Sit Back and Relax…

I LOVE book trailers.

I have been sold in the idea of promoting a book through a visual medium. Many publishers are creating book trailers to promote the books that they publish. I hope that they continue to make these and that teachers, librarians, and parents continue to use them.

They work!

I have been able to introduce book trailers to teachers and my librarian in my school building and to colleagues throughout the district and state.

As a teacher, I saw success in using them.

Stampede for Wonder

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

I bought another copy of the book for my classroom. I then showed the book trailer, which is awesome, to my class and shared the video of the author reading a chapter out loud. I then held the book up and told the class that I LOVE this book. I told them it is probably one of my favorites of all time. I made a sign-up sheet and placed it on the whiteboard. I asked the class who would want to read this book? All hands shot up instantly! I told the class that they can sign up after lunch. There were a lot of moaning and groaning going on. Before the lunch recess bell rang, I had a line at my door. Once I let them in, there was a literal stampede at the sign-up sheet. One parent couldn’t understand what the kids were doing at the whiteboard. I told her that it was for a book. She couldn’t believe it. I had 17 names on the sign-up sheet (out of 27 kids).

The Unwanteds to Wanted…

The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann

The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann

The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann was a Beehive nominee last year. Kids from third through fifth grades read this book along with other nominees. One fourth grade teacher asked me about book trailers and how she could use them in her classroom. I told her that they are a huge motivator for reading a book…and a BIG hook. She asked if I could come in and introduce book trailers to her classroom. I said sure.

I knew that I was going to show The Unwanteds trailer so I brought my copy of the book to share. I knew after viewing the trailer they would WANT to read it.

I did a little experiment.

I held the book up and did a little book talk. I tried to do my best. After I book talked the book, I asked for a show of hands who would want to read it. Only 2 hands went up. I almost felt like a failure.

I then showed the book trailer. The kids were captivated…

Afterwards, I asked by a show of hands, who would like to read it. All but 2 hands went up. The book trailer not only hooked them, but became a huge motivator in reading the book.

The One and Only Book Trailer…

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

This book trailer captivated me. The music. The captions. The artwork. The drama. The panning. It’s almost perfect. This is the book trailer that I show not only to students in classrooms (because I have been a huge fan of this book) but to teachers to show how awesome book trailers are.

When I taught fifth grade, I didn’t have the book yet, but I decided to show the book trailer. I really wanted to see who would want to read it before I bought it for my class. I knew that I wanted to read it by watching the trailer but didn’t know if the trailer would sell the book to my students.

I showed the trailer to my class. They were hooked. I ended up buying two copies that night (one for me and one for my class). I had one student go out and buy the book. This is a huge investment for a fifth grader to go and buy a hardcover book. I will tell more about this experience in another post.

Tips for Book Trailers

I am a firm believer that if you are going to get kids excited about a book then they need to have access to that book. Only show book trailers IF you have the book or are going to buy the book for your class.

Most, if not all, book trailers are found on YouTube. Go to and type in the search bar the title of the book and add “book trailer” behind the title. Always preview the trailer first to make sure it’s the one you want to show. Some trailers are of higher quality than others.

This is a way to hook kids to reading a book. I think like all great things, they can lose their luster and novelty if used to the extreme. I would show 1-2 a week (and this may be pushing it). As a teacher, I want to keep the novelty of strategies that I use and if you use it often, it often goes by the wayside.

If you don’t see a book trailer for a book, google the book’s title and publisher. The trailer may be on the publisher’s site. I do know that many authors offer the trailer on their own author website. Don’t get discouraged if it isn’t on YouTube, search for other sites that the trailers may be hosted on.

Final Question…

How do you use book trailers in your classroom?


Jack, Joey, and Me

I love these books!

Joey Pigza Loses Control by Jack Gantos

Joey Pigza Loses Control by Jack Gantos

Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos

Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos

Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos

Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos

I love this author!!

Newbery Award winning author Jack Gantos

Newbery Award winning author Jack Gantos

The Joey Pigza series is one of my favorites. Joey, who has ADHD is wired…and he has one of the most dysfunctional families written. Secretly, my favorite is the chain-smoking, emphysema-stricken grandma. The characters and situations are so real. I can picture every room of the house in my mind. I love these books and I feel so bad for Joey. Many of our students can connect with Joey, his wiredness, his family life, and his relationships with his mother, father, and grandmother. Of course we can’t forget Pablo!

I have read this book many times.


I am glad that at NCTE in Boston, I was able to purchase the last volume of the series.

During my first year of teaching, I read Joey Pigza Loses Control aloud to my class.

They loved it. I really connected with the story. I constantly thought about Joey and felt so bad for him. He really did become real to me…and so did his family.

After we were finished, I asked the class if they would like to write to the author. They said yes. So, we wrote letters describing why we enjoyed the book using specific examples from the text. I bought a big envelope, found his publisher’s address, and mailed it off.

It would be a long shot to get a reply, I thought.

Fast forward three months…

I looked in my school mailbox and found a white envelope.

I picked it up and looked at the front. It was addressed to me in neat, unique, cursive handwriting. I looked at who it was from and it said “Jack Gantos” at the top left-hand side.

Oh my gosh.

I was excited. It was needed for me at that time. That feeling of should I continue to do this…teaching. The first year of teaching contain some of the hardest moments of your career: from no curriculum, oversized classes (my first period I didn’t have enough desks for all of the students), to disagreements from colleagues, and classroom management. It’s hard.

I carefully opened the envelope. I didn’t want to ruin the handwriting addressed to me.

I pulled out the letter, unfolded it, and read it.

It was personal. It was genuine. It was filled with encouragement to my writers. And to the writer in me.

After school was over, I took the letter and the envelope to the nearest frame shop. I paid to have the letter and envelope custom framed so that I could hang it up in my classroom. To show off the personal connection that an author and a classroom of seventh graders in southern Arizona could have.

Eleven years ago!


Eleven years later, I was in Boston, Massachusetts attending the National Conference of Teachers of English (NCTE) conference. The great thing about this conference is the authors that you meet. It really feels like your meeting celebrities, the Oh My Gosh…did you just see Laurie Halse Anderson!? Did you just see Gae Polisner?! Lindsey Leavitt?! Judy BLUME?! Patricia Maclachlan?! Jo Knowles?! Kirby Larson?! Linda Urban?! Geoff Herbach?! Anne Ursu?!

Literally too many authors to write…but I hope you get the idea.

It is something like no other. To book nerds…or members of the Nerdy Book Club…all these guys and gals are our rock stars!

Jack Gantos was going to be there. Signing. And meeting his readers.

After standing in line at Starbucks with my friend Gae Polisner to get breakfast, I told her that I wanted to meet Jack and would possibly be late. She told me to get to the convention hall to meet him. I said good-bye, gave her a hug (it was Sunday, the last day of the convention, and I wouldn’t see her again), and ran towards the convention hall. I found the line and stood at the back. The publisher told me that I was too late and that I would have to go to his other signing. I told her that I had to meet him because eleven years ago he wrote to my class. It must have worked, my story, because she allowed me to get in line. I picked up a few books and finally made it to the table where he was signing.

Jack Gantos and me.

Jack Gantos and me.

I told him that he wrote to my class eleven years ago and that it really meant a lot to a young first year teacher who was really thinking about quitting. He told me that he was glad that he wrote and that he still tries to write to classes. I thought that was awesome. A Newbery Award winning author still trying to write to classrooms. To students. To teachers. To readers and writers.

It took eleven years to have this story come full-circle.

Eleven years.

It’s Monday, What Are You Reading???

Make sure to check out

Make sure to check out

Here is the book I have started…

The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill by Megan Frazer Blakemore

The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill by Megan Frazer Blakemore

I am still reading…

The Water Castle by Megan Frazer Blakemore

The Water Castle by Megan Frazer Blakemore

I want to read this week…

Celebrating Writers by Ruth Ayres

Celebrating Writers by Ruth Ayres

A WONDERful Precept…

Last year as professional development and a way to gather around one book, our staff was able to choose if they wanted to participate in a book club. The idea behind the book club was to have teachers read books that kids were/are reading. I mentioned in a previous post why I believe this is so important.

The two books we read were Wonder by R.J Palacio and See You at Harry’s by Jo Knowles.

We created Wordles, found ways to use a graffiti wall for student response, a strategy I learned about from Donalyn Miller, and Skyped with the author of See You at Harry’s.

One teacher has used these strategies in her class this year.

She is reading Wonder aloud in her class. Her students are loving it.

She is also able to use this book as teaching opportunities. This is an accelerated learning class. Most of their lives they have been “different”.

After reading a section of the text, she has students bring to class a precept (words to live by) to share and write down on the graffiti wall.

She also had students create wordles.

The Wonder graffiti wall with wordles on top.

The Wonder graffiti wall with wordles on top.

Here are some precepts students brought in and wrote on the graffiti wall.

A precept.

A precept.

Some more precepts.

Some more precepts.


unnamed-9These activities have been engaging.

They are out-of-the-box activities that make learning different…special…meaningful…exciting…a mystery.

Do you think students will remember this WONDERful book?

I think so.

A Thank You…

A few months or so ago we were able to have Liesl Shurtliff visit our school.

She’s the author of RUMP…a 2013 nerdy nominee.

Liesl conferring with a student writer. This was awesome to see being modeled by a nationally-published author!

Liesl conferring with a student writer.

It was an awesome visit.

After she left, I had my group of students write what they thought about the visit on a graffiti wall, a take away from my friend Donalyn Miller’s idea of a student response graffiti wall. The great thing about this strategy is that you can use it for practically anything (which is why I think it’s so great)!

This was to be a reflection of sorts.

Here is what they had to say.


A student reflection.

A student reflection.


Another reflection.

Another reflection.


A reflection.

A reflection.

As you can see, they could remember specific events of the visit. Especially the hook, the way she grabbed their attention and didn’t let go…

Standing on her head. : )

Word of Mouth…

Have you ever read this book?

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

I have. It’s a magical story. It’s about a girl who is different, eccentric, and very okay just being herself. The rest of the student body is not okay with this girl. One boy decides to become friends with her…and the ending is quite heartbreaking.

I loved this story. Not because of the ending. But because of the WHOLE story.

I decided to have book clubs because I wanted my students to read REAL books, not just excerpts from an anthology. I wanted them to have an authentic experience reading quality books and discussing them with their peers.

I book talked each book.

I told one group that Stargirl was going to be their book to read and that this book was one of my favorites. I told them that I LOVED this book and after reading it, I recommended it to everyone I saw.

They took the bait.

They were hooked.

I gave each student in the group the book and they began to devour it.

All of the sudden, I heard these students tell other students about the book. It started as a small fire and then soon became a forrest fire, spreading quickly. I heard students talk about Stargirl in class, in the hallway, at recess, in the lunchroom. Students were carrying the book around with them everywhere they went, reading at any chance they had. I even saw them read it outside at recess.

Students in other book club groups came to me asking if they could read Stargirl. I said yes. Other kids asked if they could be next. “Of course”, I said. This was exciting.

It’s amazing how a book can spread like a wild fire, all by word of mouth. Students talking about a book to other students. Students being honest with other students. Recommendations being made. When students are hooked by a book, devour the book, and then tell others about it…this is pure magic in action.

This is what Stargirl did.


Eight years ago I read a book aloud in my class.

The book was by Jerry Spinelli.


The title was Milkweed.


I remember picking up this book because 1. it was a new book from Jerry Spinelli and 2. it was such a different book from others he had written.

It has become one of my favorites.

It has become a favorite for my former students as well.

They are now 19 and it still has an influence in their lives.

One student wrote this to me…(we read Milkweed and talked about the Holocaust).

“Just so I won’t completely bore everyone on that message, here are my future plans. This summer I am taking summer term at BYU studying just Anthropology and Mission Prep. I hope to major in Anthropology, and minor in international development or Jewish or Russian studies. I want to focus becoming an ethnographer in Jewish communities in former the USSR. I want to do something with social work/refugee work as well.. but I haven’t quite figured that out yet. A big part of how I got the idea and my love for those two cultures came from when we did our holocaust unit. I had NO idea that genocides happen, and that that had happened. It was a big shock to find that more recently in history that those same genocides still happen today. Anyway… so thank you for being apart of this!”

I then was on Instagram and saw this from a different former student:


*Check out the hashtags*

Jerry Spinelli was going to be at NCTE in Boston.

I was going to be there too.

I wanted to see him. I really did!

I ran through the exhibit hall to where he was going to be. I asked one of the exhibitors if his signing was over. She said that it was but that he was still standing at the signing table and was really nice and that he may sign something for you. She pointed over to the signing table.

I walked up to him. He was shorter than I had imagined. And had more white hair than he did in his picture on the jacket of my copy of Maniac Magee. (Of course Maniac Magee was written over 20 years ago…geesh!)

“Hey Mr. Spinelli.”

“Hey”, he replied, looking up at me.

“I just wanted to come up and say that you are one of my favorite authors and that you have really inspired my former students. We read Milkweed when they were in my class eight years ago and it has changed their lives.”


“Yes, one student wants to be an anthropologist and help Jewish people in Europe. And another sent this picture to me.”

I showed him the Instagram picture. (See above.)

He looked at me after reading it and said, “do you see these girls?”

I said, “I have…and will.”

“Next time you see them, will you give them a big hug for me?”

“You bet Mr. Spinelli.”

He then signed my copy of Maniac Magee.

Later that night, I wrote on Facebook:

Kelsey, I saw over the weekend and told Jerry Spinelli how the book Milkweed influenced you and your life goals! He was blown away! He told me to give you a hug…if you were there he would have given you that hug himself!


Kassidee, guess who I saw over the weekend? Jerry Spinelli! I told him about you and showed him the Instagram picture you took! He told me to give you a BIG hug! It was an honor to tell him about YOU!

She replied: AHHHH!! No frickin way!! I’m so jealous but happy you remembered!

Of course I remembered. My students were and are awesome.

And I am continually inspired by them.

Post Navigation