Celebrate This Week: Summer Learning Together

Time to Celebrate this week with Ruth Ayers. This practice is rejuvenating and centering. I recommend it. You can fincelebrate link upd this week’s posts and add yours here.

First off, this is my 300th post. And it all started here. Thank you, Ruth, and all who celebrate beside me. You have made me a better writer, reader and teacher.

Sadly, I “taught” writing for years without actually doing any authentic writing of my own.  Writing in this space has opened my eyes and heart not only to what writing might be but also to what needs to be done to teach anything well.

My second celebration is the writing about reading Twitter chat, #WabtR, on Tuesday. We had read Cynthia Lord’s new book A Handful of Stars as a virtual club, writing and sharing our notebook jots on a Google doc. The intent of our chat was to talk mostly about our reactions to the process.  I thought it might be a small group, so I offered to host. I had no idea. Oh my gosh. It was a wild party of reading enthusiasts.  Wild and wonderful. If you missed it check out the Storify here.

And look who showed up!

Goosebumps, right?  I’ve read all of her books and met her at NCTE, along with a long line of others waiting to get her autograph.  What a thrill to see her on Twitter at our chat.

Our chat and my reaction to it made me think. And, leads to my third celebration this week, reading professional literature. Franki Sibberson and Bill Bass’s new book, Digital Reading, is a joy.  In the spirit of Donalyn Miller, it authentically recognizes how the digital imgres-1world enhances our reading lives. Franki looks at how she uses digital media personally and then takes that to her students.

Our teacher Google book club, Twitter chat and appearance of the author is just one example of how digital reading could go. It’s not just reading an e-book or doing research on the web or writing about reading electronically or connecting with an author. It’s all of it combined in a purposeful way to get more out of reading.

I’m also devouringimgres-2 Jennifer Serravallo’s new book, The Reading Strategies Book. Bottom line, if you teach reading K through 6, get this book. Serravallo does a beautiful job delineating what students need and how to get them there. I’ve taught reading to 5th graders for 11 years, boy I wish I had this book sooner!

Serravallo’s descriptions of text attributes by level help teachers understand the literacy journey our students travel.

Every year I have kiddos on the edges of that bell curve. This book will help target their needs with straightforward strategies by level and goal.

On deck: Colleen Cruz’s The Unstoppable Writing teacher and the new Reading Units of Study from Lucy Calkins et. al.

My fourth celebration is for the next round of virtual book club reading. After our reading and chat on A Handful of Stars, many wanted more. So we split off into smaller groups choosing books that fit our learning needs. I choose, what I hope is a “just right” read for me, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry.

Some have taken the work to their schools. My school will reading on Honey by Sarah Weeks.

Finally, I’m celebrating a few more weeks of summer: to enjoy the fruits of the season, stretch out long days filled with sunshine, reading and connecting with others in this digital world of ours.


Learning together as we ask our students to do is the best kind of summer learning. 

Celebrate: Time for Summer Learning

One of the benefits of being a teacher is summertime learning.

This week I celebrate this annual indulgence. Find more celebrations here. Thank you, Ruth, for this weekly opportunity to reflect joyfully.

celebrate link up

First I want to celebrate my blog makeover. When I started blogging, I had no clue. I looked at themes and chose the one with the plainest possible appearance. I wanted to be low key, unnoticed, invisible.  And that was a good place for my insecure self. Now my blog has become a safer place. A notebook of sorts. Friends stop by. I have some extra time, why not remodel.

I played around with some color. For a few minutes, my blog had a bright yellow background. Then green, blue and finally this lovely share of grey-green. Ok, I’m still the gal that wears no makeup, low key. But, the picture at the top can be changed. Allows for a little wild and crazy.

My second celebration is writing about reading A Handful of Stars with my virtual colleagues. The writing has accelerated my thinking and meaning making around this book in ways I didn’t expect. The simple post-it or jot in the journal has exploded on collaborative Google docs. Each participant has offered their thoughts, each reader adding into the discussion and the thinking.  Throughout this, I wonder, how to bring this collective, complex, and engaging thinking about reading to students. Working on that one.

Next I want to celebrate the virtual summer camp program sponsored by the National Writing Project, CLMOOC It’s outside-the-box thinking about teaching and writing: fun and a little scary. I’ve attempted one and done a lot of “stalking” or should I say analyzing mentor text to figure out what might work for me. Yesterday, I saw Margaret Simon’s offering for week #3. It is a simple but beautiful word play game using game cards from Apples to Apples. It accommodates players abilities by allowing them to create sentences or poetry.

Taking cues from Margaret’s example and my virtual book club experience, I came up with this game, Capture the Quote.  In our club work, many found that lifting lines from the text and writing about them was a powerful way to grow thinking. This game attempts to help students explore lines in books as we did.  Students could use this as a game during a club meeting, small group work, to begin, end, or in the middle of reading workshop. The “value” of a quote could then be debated. Some lines, by virtue of the random choice, will be less powerful than others. That’s a lesson in itself. It seems to work for A Handful of Stars. In the spirit of game design, test it out on something you’re reading. Does it work for you?

Finally, I celebrate the power of my future students’ writing notebooks. My incoming fifth graders left their old notebooks with me for the summer. I thought, in my teacher mind, I could find teaching points, group them, put them on a continuum of learning.

But I found more. In every notebook, I see their school persona but also a bit of who they are. What they want and dream. What worries them. What matters. Alongside the lessons of how to find a small moment, write a compound sentence, and stretch your thinking are words filled with the passion and humor of being nine. Those lovely gems shine through and say this is me!

I wonder what people think when they look at me. They don’t know what I’m really like.

I snuck in the kitchen, late at night when everyone was asleep, I ate ice cream, it was delicious.

My brother was the golden boy, he was Mr. Little Prince until the dentist.

Pink is the best. Sometimes soccer teams wear pink…on their shoes like my dad.

I wish people called me the best basketball player ever, the smartest person ever

I got in trouble–accidentally

People who don’t like sports just haven’t learned how to play, yet. I was like that.

Reading student writing always makes me laugh and fall in love just a little bit.

Taking the time to read their writing makes my virtual and often theoretical summer learning more concrete. Real. A notebook or two a day keeps me in touch. Grounded.

Every day my learning expands. And I’m so grateful for it.

Then I read a notebook or two. And try to process that learning through the lens of a soccer player, a little brother, a Minecraft expert, a passionate reader, a comic book writer, a believer in the power of all kinds of sports, a big sister, a video gamer, a cat lover.

This week I celebrate the joy of time that lets me read, think, learn and grow alongside published children’s authors’, trade book writers’, my colleagues’ and students’ words.

Virtual Book Club: A Handful of Stars

This post is an invitation to join a virtual book club reading of A Handful of Stars by Cynthia Lord.

virtual book club Consider this: Is writing about reading worth doing? Think about what your students do when they write about reading. If it is low level, how is it worthwhile?

Teachers ask students to write about reading their reading with good intentions. Reading is an invisible activity, so if students write their thoughts, we will see their work and be able to help them.  A secondary reason to write about reading is because it gets readers to deeper understanding. We know writing about reading can help us engage with a text. And, the process of writing about something increases understanding of a text as if it was read it six times.

From a student’s perspective, writing about reading is what teachers do to make sure you are really reading. Most students who love to read hate to write about it. Those that do, do it out of obligation or fear. Not for the love of it. They don’t see the point. They don’t value it.

Considering these two perspectives, how might we teachers move our students toward our beliefs and away from what they see as a painful must-do task?  How might we demonstrate that if they write, they might get more out their reading through the process of writing?

Some other questions to ponder:

What does it mean to write well about reading?

What type of writing will bring out higher levels of thinking?

When/how much? Should we stop and write long post its or should we jot quickly as we read across a book and then take one to two post-its and think about them in a more in-depth way.

What’s worth writing about?

How does the author show us that something matters?

If you’re interested in exploring these questions, click here and join in as we read and write about reading A Handful of Stars.

Celebrating: My Digital Life

It’s time to Celebrate this Week with Ruth Ayers! As always, thank you, Ruth. Your link up has led me to so much learning and joy. And thank you to all you add to this weekly celebration. Click here to read others and add your own voice.

celebrate link up


This week’s post is all about my digital life, so it serves as a #digilit post as well! Thank you, Margaret Simon for sending out this weekly call. Find others here.


This week I’ve been organizing. It’s what we teachers do when the summer starts. We sort through all “the stuff” that’s been shoved aside for later.

In the past, that organization was papers, files, books. It’s still papers, files, and books, but now there is more,  and it’s quiet. It doesn’t take up that much space. No one would notice it if they walked into your home. It’s shoved away in a silent, sleek, silver exterior. It’s my laptop. A digital nightmare. That mailbox, those files scattered all over the desktop, those pictures! ACK!!

First my email. I deleted, filed and unsubscribed to emails.

Then, I noticed my photos were everywhere: on my desktop, in the cloud, scattered in various files on my computer. I went down that rabbit hole of click file, delete.  All the while, I obsessively check my email to delete and unsubscribe. By the end of Tuesday, I could claim a managed email inbox and a tidy desktop. Fireworks!! Yeah! Celebrate!

In the process, I found an email from CLMOOC. I had seen Margaret Simon’s work on this here. (To be honest, this was one of the motivating factors behind my digital cleanup. I couldn’t find the email I knew I should have received!)

The call was to “remediate” a story, artifact, picture, blog post, whatever. The word remediate in this project did not mean to “remedy” or fix a problem, as it does in the world of education. This “Make Cycle” task was to take something, an artifact, picture, story, quote, anything and see it through another medium or lens. In this process, the “message” of the media would change. Our mission what to translate, and notice

the… ways in which moving from one medium to another changes what we are able to communicate and how we are able to do so.

I thought of all the pictures I’d sorted. Perhaps I could find a tool that could “remediate” a series of pictures. I’ve used Canva, PicMonkey, and Waterlogue. Each of these digital tools had strengths. I had a little extra time, perhaps I could find another tool.

After a few Google searches and experimentations,  I found befunky. This site allows for photo collages and text like PicMonkey and Canva as well as photo manipulation like Waterlogue.  And it’s free.

BeFunky Collage2


Celebration number two: befunky!

But wait, I have two more things to celebrate with you. Both digital.

Fran McVeigh. Last week TCRWP had their Summer Reading Institute. I was home but enjoyed tweets and Fran McVeigh’s blog posts, every day. This week I celebrate the contribution Fran makes to our learning community. Click here to enjoy.

A Handful of Stars Virtual Book Club. I mentioned this last week. We “officially” start Monday, so tomorrow I’ll share some thoughts on this blog as to how and where to share. Check the link above if you want to join in.

Happy Celebration Saturday!



Digi Lit Sunday: A Virtual Book Club

Here’s a late post for DigiLit Sunday. A place to share our digital literacy learning hosted by Margaret Simon on her blog Reflections on the Teche.slide11

Last week I was at Bank Stree Books Store in New York City with teacher friends, Sally Donnelly, Allison Jackson and Fran McVeigh, and we all bought Cynthia Lord’s new book Handful of Stars.  We teach in different schools, in different states, but we share the same passion for reading and belief in our students.


After my first day at the Summer Writing Institute, I wanted read this book as a club with my TCRWP colleagues. So I suggested a virtual book club. Immediately, the three and others in different states (who found out on Twitter) jumped on board. We plan to start the week of July 6th. If you’re interested in joining click here to add your name and contact info.

How might this “virtual” book club work? After a little discussion, Google Docs was thought to be the most universal in terms of access and knowledge base. Perhaps if the group is up for it, we can throw in a Twitter chat.

The question I’m pondering: Is there a better technology tool to make virtual book clubs more effective?

I’d been hearing about Voxer for awhile. I love Twitter and my blogging friends. Dare I open up another tool? Could it overwhelm and fracture my already splintered focus?

With encouragement from folks like Dr. Mary Howard and Jenn Hayhurst, I signed up.

Disclaimer: I have been using Voxer in a group chat for a short period, but I can see the potential value in it.  We have been discussing Jennifer Serravallo’s new book, The Reading Strategies Book. Voxer does provide something different. And that difference is the actual conversation.

The Pros:

  • Allows for spoken conversations. It acts as a walkie-talkie.  You push a button and talk.
  • You can choose to write your thoughts, and the text space is unlimited.
  • You can  add attachments, pictures and links,
  • When you are invited in for a chat, you are linked to all others in the chat.  The conversation is “heard” by all.
  • It’s happening 24/7, so like Twitter you can add into the conversation or check back at any time.
  • You can save comments by “starring” them.
  • It’s on your phone; you’re mobile!

The Cons:

The free version has limitations.

  • Limited data retention
  • Limited number of users in chat
  • No computer access, you must have a smartphone to use
  • You have to hold down the talk button to keep recording
  • It might get hard to follow conversation over time

I’m using the free version and have enjoyed using it. It is fun to hear comments and be unlimited by the number of characters you use if you choose to text. The real power of Voxer seems to be in using the record function. If you are going to write your responses, a Google doc might be a better way to go for a written conversation.

Try out a chat on Voxer with someone to get the feel of it. Then consider VoxerPro if it’s something you could see benefiting your team.

Personally I’m loving trying it out.