DigiLit Sunday: Motivation

Margaret Simon @ Reflections on the Teche suggested the topic of motivation for her Sunday DigiLit Link up.


I’m fascinated by motivation. What creates it. What kills it. I’m a witness to the power of it, and the lack of it.

Motivation is the reason we do.

Motivation is observable.  There are inadvertent sounds that signal engagement a prerequisite to motivation.

The groan that follows the end reading or writing workshop and
the cheer that follows “it’s time for read aloud” are clear indicators of motivation.

And the converse.
The groan that follows the beginning of a workshop and
the cheer follows the recess bell are signs of tired, unmotivated kiddos.

Both scenarios happen in my classroom. They indicate what’s working and what’s missing the mark. It’s up to me to hear them and adjust.

For the less vocal students, I have to listen in other ways. Through their work, their body language; what is done and undone.

“A” hasn’t finished a book in a week.
“B” doesn’t move from that book when the bell rings.
“C” is wandering the room.
“D” wrote more today.

Motivation that lasts through struggle is individual. Accessing it is complex.

We need inspiration.

I read Emmanuel’s Dream, the true story of Emmanuel Yeboah to my kids last week. They were fascinated. He was inspirational, determined, proud, outgoing. And the feeling, if he can do this, surely I can work harder in my world.

We need mentors to show how.
We need goals to measure our success.

My students are working on writing about characters. Thanks to the guidance of DIY Literacy, we created the character charts and micro progression together.  Next week, we’ll attempt bookmarks, using the micro progressions and charts we’ve developed.


Here’s my demonstration bookmark. The test of the charts and their understanding will be in what students create.

Motivation is complex. It takes work and hope. With observation and tools; choice and  inspirational stories we will find a road to access it.

Celebrate: Unexpected Connections

This week I want to celebrate an unexpected connection.

This week I was listening to the amazing and sometimes overwhelming Good to Great Voxer chat. I happened to listen to something that I might have skipped over. It was about Number Talks.  I could have passed over the link; I don’t teach math. But this week I had the time to listen to a few.

I saw the seven dots as a square of four with a line through it.

I was fascinated, and a little ashamed that I had no knowledge of this beautiful work. Turns out my colleagues who teach math use this strategy all the time. Interesting how it took my Voxer friend, Christina Nosek in San Francisco to clue me into something that is going on two doors down from me. It makes me think about how I listen to the world. But that’s another blog post.

This post, for this week, is about how math work informed my literacy work.

Thursday my students and I were talking about the many ways we can write about reading. How readers can be reading the same thing and have different ways of seeing it and writing about it. Right then in that discussion, the seven dots popped into my head. How we see the world varies. How we see the text varies.

The next day I read this passage from our read aloud,  Deltora Quest #1: The Forests of Silence, by Emily Rodda.

The cart that collected the food scraps would be of no use to him. Prandine must have guessed that Jarred had used it to escape, because it was no longer permitted to enter the palace. These days it waited between the two sets of gates while guards loaded it with sacks.

I stopped and asked them to sketch or envision this scene. I told them thumbs up when you’re you’ve got it. Then I asked them to describe what they saw so I could sketch it on the board.

Some described iron gates, others, wooden slates. Some saw the gates arching; others spiked at the top. Some saw the doors slightly open; others saw the lock. Some just saw the bags of food scraps; some were seeing the apple cores inside the bag. Some saw the guards with a frown and a metal helmet.

We read on.

Its walls were lined with stone. In wonder, Jarred realized that he had found the entrance to a tunnel. Scurry, mouse, Into your house … He knew what he must do. He lay flat on his stomach and wriggled into the hole, pulling himself forward on his elbows until the space broadened and his way became easier. So now the mouse is in the mouse hole, he thought grimly, as he crawled along in the darkness. Let us hope that no cat is waiting at the other end. For a short time the tunnel sloped downwards, then it became more level and Jarred realized that he was moving through the center of the hill.

Students had to do some thinking work. They used their notebooks.

We all see the text differently.

This week I saw dots differently. The dots connected, unexpectedly. This week I celebrate those unexpected connections.

Read more celebrations here on Ruth Ayers blog Discover, Play, Build.

SOL: Expectations With Choice

Writing about reading has been a difficult sell for some students and adults.

I just want to read, stop bugging me to write, is a complaint I’ve heard from both populations.
But, I know, from my experience, writing about reading, always lifts the level of my thinking.

Do I always do write about reading? No. If I want to read something deeply or I am reading with others, yes. I make purposeful choices. I want my students to do the same. Always dogmatically writing about reading, no. When they are reading deeply and with partners, yes.

Sunday, I read my students’ Reader’s Notebooks. They are theirs. I don’t grade them. I check in on them for specific work. Now that testing is over, I wanted to get a sense of where they were in their thinking.

Monday, after book shopping, I called them to the carpet and said, “I set a lot of time aside this weekend to read your notebooks. I was so excited to see what was going on in your reading lives. Sadly, I finished in no time. There wasn’t much to look at.”

They looked at me.

I could of, maybe should have asked them why. But I didn’t.

Instead, I asked them to tell me all the ways they could write about reading. They said I recorded:

Character webs, sketching, know/wonder thinking (wonderful shorthand for Vicki Vinton/Dorothy Barnhouse’s strategy in What Readers Really Do) emotional timelines, tracking the plot, retelling, boxes and bullets, summary, found poetry.

I looked at them.

They looked at their feet.

If they knew so much, why didn’t they write? I knew they were reading. Maybe they were making purposeful choices, perhaps not.

I could of, maybe should have asked them why. But I didn’t.

Instead, I handed them their Reader’s Notebooks and said. “We have four weeks left. Let’s get serious.”

Expectations were set: In thirty minutes, read and write about reading.

“Can we choose any way to write about reading?” K asked.

“I expect you to,” I said. “Use what works, for you and the book.”

“Can you leave that list up?” M asked.

“Of course.”

“Yesss!” And he took off.

Four students refused to leave the carpet. All looked concerned. Finally, one asked. “Can I get a new notebook?” Then the rest chimed in with me too.

Ok, that was an easy fix.  Off they went, new notebooks in hand, thrilled with the opportunity for a do-over.

I moved from reader to reader checking in, scattering stacks of post-its, reminding them of how they might be useful.

I walked by A’s desk; he looked up at me sheepishly. “I don’t write about reading,” was his response to how’s it going.  Shame made his shoulders hunch over. I could see what he was thinking: Just when I thought I could happily enjoy reading, she caught me.

“I know,” I said. ” I’ll help. You’re a great reader; you just have to show a teeny bit of your thinking on the page.”

He sucked in deeply and looked at me. Suspicious. “Ok, I guess.”

With about five minutes left in the workshop,  I asked those kiddos who were sucked deeply into their books to come up for air; take a moment to write about something that stuck with them.

Afterward, they graded themselves on quantity and quality of their reading. They talked with their partners, shared their writing about reading, made some plans for reading tonight.

Many came up to me to assess their writing. I turned it back to them with what do you think? Most were tougher graders than I would have been. Typical.

Several kiddos pulled reading logs out. (I have generic ones students can choose to use. ) This time, I asked why.

T said, “I like them. I like putting down the time I read and the pages I read. It helps me set goals for myself.”

A said, “They are neat and organized. I like that.”

Whoa. Really?

K walked up to me. Holding out her notebook, “Can I use this over the summer? I have a plan as to how I’m want to use this.”

Uh, yeah sure, great idea.

I was disappointed this weekend.  But, what I saw today was surprising and pleasing.
When there were unstated expectations, during the fog of testing and test prep, most did not write about reading. But today, all jumped to do it.

They knew what to do.
Expectations were clarified.
A menu of options could meet the expectation.

Everyone wants to leave the classroom feeling like they did something. Expectations with choice help students find that path.

That’s how reading went today.

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for Slice of Life Tuesdays. Read more slices here.





Celebrate: Boundless Reading

This week we ventured into Wonderopolis. I can confidently say Wonderopolis is my students’ new favorite thing. It keeps them still when the bell rings for recess. It makes them cheer when we start and whine when we have to stop.  “What are you wondering?” is the most natural thing to ask a child. And the wonderings of Wonderopolis are boundless.  This week I celebrate our wondering and Wonderopolis.

Writing makes thinking happen. So writing about reading makes perfect sense. Unless you are anyone who just wants to read to find out. Last week I challenged kids to write about their reading in a way that expressed themselves and showed their thinking about their nonfiction reading. I believe student voice and understanding exists in these images.

This week I celebrate student writing about reading that fits the mindset of the student not the assignment of the teacher.

On Tuesday, my student, K, picked up this 304-page book.

61HgnG6bnJL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_K is the kind of reader whose book selection leans toward thin books with exciting covers. I watched. Wednesday I wandered up to his table and found him two-thirds through the book.

Me: Whoa! You just got this yesterday!

K, looking up at me: Yeah, it’s a really good book!

S across from him: I am surprised too. He just got it.

K: It’s just a really good book!

This week I celebrate K finding “a really good” book.

This week I celebrate my students who wonder, write about and enjoy reading.  I celebrate the creators of books, magazines and online media that speak to my students’ interests. I celebrate the time to find and the time process.

Thank you, Ruth Ayers, for the opportunity to share my celebrations each week.  Find more celebrations here.

celebrate link up


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. 

Digital Writing About Reading

It’s late, but I think I’m going to make Margaret Simon’s Sunday link up on digital literacy. Thank you, Margaret, for the push to write about this part of our lives.  slide11This past week I’ve written a lot on Google docs for my cyber book group. I’ve tried this work before, but never on this level.

The idea came together on at TCRWP Summer Writing Insitute in a bookstore.


I think it’s interesting that while all of our book club discussion was digital, the genesis of the club was a book, a bookstore, and a Summer Writing Institute session. Face-to-face interactions, hardcover books, brick-and-mortar stores, and classrooms with teachers and students are still necessary ingredients for learning.

Last week we read and wrote (a lot) about our thinking while reading Cynthia Lord’s book A Handful of Stars.  Our thoughts and notebooks were personal, unique. Each readers’ ideas offered a snapshot of the inside, what was going through our minds as we read.  Mine was unorganized and messy. I was inconsistent in my jots. And, it felt a little risky putting it out there.  There were times when I felt not very smart. Pretty basic retell. Ugh! I hoped no one was grading my thinking. Fortunately, I was among the kindest of colleagues.

BUT,  I thought more deeply about this book than I EVER could have if I had read it alone. The book is still with me. I’m puzzling over some things. I’m re-reading and writing those lines I loved. Images are still fresh. And I’m asking myself, what did it really mean? I’m still putting pieces together.

Would I want to do this for every book I read?  NO. It’s too hard, and I can’t read as much. It breaks up my flow.

BUT, is there a time and place for this type of work? If I did it from time to time would it make me a better reader?  Do we need a little discomfort for growth? I think so.

Now for the $64,000 question.

Can I transfer my experience (the good part) to students while supporting the love of reading?

Curious?  Join us on Twitter, Tuesday, 7/14, 7:30 EDT for a chat on Writing About Reading — #WabtR.



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.

Celebrate: Learning with TCRWP

It’s time to celebrate this week with others on Ruth Ayers’ weekly link up. Find other celebration posts here.

celebrate link up

Today I celebrate this week at TCRWP’s Summer Writing Institute.

Prepare to be jealous.

In addition to keynotes from Carl Anderson, Lucy Calkins, Mary Erhenworth, Naomi Shihab Nye and Sarah Weeks, I attended daily break out sessions on Writing about Reading with Ali Marron and Using Children’s Literature as Mentor Text with Shana Frazin.imgres

The learning was monumental. Ideas intermingled and cross-pollinated. This was not simply a Writing Institute; it was a Literacy Institute.

First: It is a beautiful thing to help students find their voice when writing about reading.  Too often this work translates into an accountability tool, destroying the good intentions of teachers and potential book love. By offering students some latitude and ownership in their writing about reading process, we send the message of agency and trust.

Second: As with any learning, models matter.  Offering freedom to develop a personal style, we all benefit from seeing many models teacher’s and students’. Imagine your first week of school creating a gallery of possible ways to write about reading.

Third: Audience matters. When we have an audience, our engagement goes sky hight. Everyone wants to come to the party with something valuable to share. The work is purposeful just because someone else is depending on you.

Fourth: Tools, strategies and scaffolds are necessary but, scaffolds should be training wheels. When we introduce a scaffold, the plan to take it away should be an integral part of the plan.

Fifth: Examining children’s literature as a mentor text build reading and writing muscles!  We looked at several texts from a structural point of view. This work is thought-provoking as a reader and a writer. Look at the many possible ways teachers mapped out the structure of Eve Bunting’s Yard Sale.



IMG_2355After that work, we added a layer of thought: How the theme was revealed through the lens of structure. The first example might be an upper elementary analysis followed by a middle school interpretation.



This brilliant work speaks to working collaboratively and thinking deeply about a text.

Imagine how this could be used as a way to inspire narrative writing structures or as a way to analyze Bunting’s use of theme in a literary essay.

To paraphrase Shana, I was so happy these beautiful teachers came to school this week.

Slice of Life: Adventures in Writing About Reading with Ali Marron

Lucky me I get to write, yet what I’m writing about isn’t easy. I chose to put myself in a place I struggle to make sense of, a place I am less than successful, a place I avoid.

I signed up for Writing About Reading at TCRWP’s Summer Writing Institute. Lucky me, I get to read and learn with Ali Marron and a room full of passionate teachers of reading and writing.

I signed up for this because I know that writing leads to greater understanding. I signed up for this because writing about reading is difficult for me be disciplined about doing, and it’s difficult for students to see the purpose or pay out. If they enjoy reading, they don’t want to stop reading to write. And, if they have to jot to hold on to meaning, it’s arduous.

I’ve worked hard on selling the merits of writing about reading, yet it hasn’t caught on.  Most of my students do it, but not with great excitement or with great outcomes. And, it’s not surprising. Maybe because I’m not a very skilled practitioner.

Ali shared some key points about the work.

First:  Writing about reading should engage us in the text.

Second: Part of becoming a stronger reader is putting yourself in a place of discomfort. Reading is invisible. So to help students, teachers need to see the kind of thinking being done. .

Third: It should facilitate synthesis. Ideas need to be tracked. Notebook structures need to promote thinking; we need to go back and revisit old ideas.

With this in mind, Ali shared some student work. Ah, mentor texts. Cool little drawings, pictures, post-its, and writing. Looks like fun.

But first, some confessions.

Confession #1: I only willingly write about reading when it’s something I’m studying, e.g., professional text. I know better. By not writing about my reading, I am accepting less comprehension.

Confession #2:  I write about reading when I must be ready to discuss. I want to become that writer who writes about reading by choice.

Confession #3: I love novels in verse partly because the words pop on the page. The white space affords lots of room for thinking. Bottom line, reading novels in verse is easier. Perhaps writing about reading is more accessible in a less challenging text.

With this in mind, I chose to read and write about Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate. I decided to try two approaches to the work.

First I jotted as I read. Whenever anything hit me as important, I quickly wrote.


At the end of a section, I looked back on my notes. Patterns, questions, and theories came through in a writing reflection. The experience was a controlled one. I wasn’t swept up in the story; I was swept up in the words and images.

Hope is present for Kek; this may be a source of anger for Ganwar – “A man knows when he is defeated.”

Then I set my notebook aside and pulled out post-its. I decided just to read and place post-its in spots with tiny thoughts, placeholders, to collect and sort later.


After reading, I sorted my post-its to come up with categories that leaned toward relationships, characters, ideas and then wrote reflections around each.


The second round of writing about reading allowed for a more holistic reading experience. The post-it placeholders let me get swept up in the story without guilt. I could go back after to sort, prioritize and decide what might be something I could write long about.

Lesson #1: Both approaches resulted in writing about reading. I would choose the latter as a better way to access the text as a reader first. Are there more ways? Absolutely!

Lesson #2: To grow our understandings students and teachers need to be pushed to less comfortable places to grow.

Lesson #3: To teach anything well we must do it. There are no shortcuts.

And this was just day one! Looking forward to four more days.

Writing About Reading: Bringing Engagement and Color to Student Thinking

I love my notebook. I use it to jot reading reactions, quotes, writing thoughts, words that interest me. I carry it with me.

Like me, my students’ reading notebooks house thinking and work. But there are some differences. First, their work is a little lifeless, a little predicable, sort of cookie cutter like. The second bigger difference is that they don’t love their notebooks. They don’t feel lost without them. Some, those who like to hold pens and write on paper, like the process. Some do it dutifully; they have been trained well.  Some make messes, drill holes, doodle, skip pages. For most, the notebook is a workbook, school work.

I love my notebook and it’s taken time to find that love.  I’ve experimented with different ways to jot, different notebooks and pens. Another big reason I love my notebook is because it’s private. So what does this mean for my students? How do I get my students to love or a least like using notebooks. Do I stop looking at student notebooks? Loosen my “criteria.” And if so, what does that look like? How do I assess? What about accountability?

Fortunately, I’m not alone. The upper grade teachers at my school have these same thoughts, and we have the opportunity to build our thinking together with our staff developer Katie Clements from TCRWP.

Katie guided us through student reader’s notebooks using specific lenses: 1) quantity, 2) growth in thinking, 3) content – retell or ideas, 4) student initiated or teacher agenda

What we found: Strategies we taught  were there!  We saw growth across grade levels. What we didn’t see: Diversity in thinking, deep thinking, or personal approaches to writing about reading, bold thinking.

The good news: students are doing what we have taught them.  Nothing wrong with that. In fact it is cause for a little celebration.  What we need: more diverse, student driven thinking; for students to find value in their writing about reading, a reason for it. Something other than “because the teacher asked me to.”

With this in mind, Katie shared some ideas to move our students toward bigger, bolder, more engaged thinking about reading. And hopefully more individuality and more passion connected to writing about reading.

  • Bring color and drawing to writing about reading. Model it in read aloud and then let students have markers to bring their thinking to life. (I love using color in my notebook. Color says something and gives me energy. Why not give students this opportunity.)
  • Study notebooks and develop a menu of writing about reading options together. (Consider doing this as a staff with our own notebooks?? Or if that’s too scary, our students’ notebooks.)
  • Create an audience for writing with gallery walks, allowing students to study each other’s best and “steal” ideas (Audience always matters!! Note to self: need to really teach “how to study and steal.”)
  • Allow students to find one page they want to “publish” with some revision (Big aha here!! I do this when I prepare a mentor text for writing about reading, why should students be allowed to?!)
  • Create a wall of writing about reading. Celebrate it! (Blog it ? – Offer the option to students.)
  • Teach students to give feedback in ways that build thinking and reflection on their writing about reading (Student assessment drives students teaching students)

We started some of this work before the long Winter Break. Students loved the challenge and the opportunity to bring life to their work.  After read aloud and a debate on the one of the characters, students went to their own reading. Toward the end of workshop, I invited them to write about reading. The results were diverse, deeper and assessable.

2014-12-16 10.20.23
Response from read aloud – similar to my model but independent thinking
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Debate done on read aloud – interesting choice of color and positioning of thoughts


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Independent reading: Rules. Seems to have transferred the demonstration in read aloud to independent work


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Independent reading: Lost in the Sun

We are just starting this work and I’ve already see renewed energy, a celebratory feel, and bigger thinking that is assessable. Next week students will return and our writing about reading adventures will continue. Can’t wait to see where we will go!