Literacy Life

Reading, Writing and the pursuit of thinner thighs

If you build the space, they will read!

It’s been a whole month of school and I am thrilled with the start of this year. I have a great class, wonderful peers and a supportive administration. I decided to write about environment – again! As I conference with readers during independent reading, I sometimes have to pinch myself. It’s so pleasing to gaze out across the room and watch engaged readers. I am such a believer that if you create an environment that supports readers and their reading, they will read. I encourage you to think about how you can create that space(s) in your classroom.













It’s such a pleasure to know that any given day, there will be hundreds of words absorbed.


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1 Author talk and a stack of books later…

I had not decided what to blog about this week, but after my 2nd hour reading I knew what I had to share. 

Today’s lesson was “How do readers choose books?”. This isn’t an abnormal lesson by any means (I’m sure you’re all in the middle of your book shopping lessons now too). However, it was in the middle of this lesson that I happened upon a hot button with my second hour class. Before the hot button, a little background on the class. 

They are actually my first class of the day since first hour is my prep. It’s my largest class, boys are 3:1 girls and they are very chatty. I love them dearly but sometimes our lessons are a struggle. 

Now back to the lesson. I had several books chosen to show examples of the book shopping strategies. One was the Avi tub to show how having favorite authors can help  us choose books. I showed a couple of my favorite Avi books, showed a couple of his that would work in our 40 book challenge for historical fiction, and showed one that was on my to-read list. I continued the lesson, showing examples of other book shopping strategies. 

During independent work time, I looked up and had a line of kids at the iPad waiting to check out books. In fact, time ran out and I discovered a present on my desk.


I mean seriously, isn’t this the best little gift ever? A stack of books students want to check out! I had to snap a -quick, terrible lighting, on my phone- pic. It was precious. 

So my wise blogdum wisdom. Talk to your kids about books. Share your reader’s heart with them. They’re listening even when you think they’re not. Require them to read, but treat them like real readers. Don’t give them fake reading teaching, they deserve more. 

Note: I forgot to snag a picture of the book shopping flow chart, but will do that first thing in the morning and add it later.

Happy Hump Day!



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Reading Response Notebooks? Yes, we have them!

It is well into our second week of school and reading class is going strong. My kids ROCK when it comes to reading. Who would think 6th grade reading would be such a “cool” subject, but my kids do.

I decided to write about my reading response notebooks because I am very happy with the layout. It’s working for us and I think it could work for some of you. I posted about my thinking behind them last spring, but now I want to show student examples and a couple of additions.


The beginning of our notebook contains a basic outline in the form of a flip book for each component of the notebook. As students create their flip book, it’s a good opportunity for you to talk through what their notebooks are going to be. This year I decided to give each student a typed summary of what each component will do in their notebook.






The first page begins their logs. I can’t tell you how much I dislike reading logs (enter soapbox) that require students to write minutes or pages or something every time they read. When you read do you go right down each page and how much time you read? I doubt it. So why do we require students to do this? Oh I know the reasons teachers say they do, but do those reasons really back up the act? We have to get students to wrap their attitudes around reading in a way that will cause them to be lifelong readers. Not to be students who read. I beg of you to analyze your reading logs. Ask yourself why do you have a reading log. What is it’s purpose? If you’re purpose is to set students and parents up for they’re first fake reading assignment, then by all means keep doing it. However if you want to build readers who read for real. STOP LOGGING MINUTES READ (stepping off soapbox)

Ok so “How do you have your students log their reading” you ask…I will tell you. I just want to know what books they’re reading and how long it took them. Our logs take quite a bit of time to set up, but once set up…it’s easy peasy! All my students keep track of is a start date and end date, book/author, genre and rating. It requires very little time and effort from students but gives me a wealth of knowledge. That monthly information gives me everything I need to know for reading conferences. I mean really, like I’m going to sit down and add up pages and minutes? I don’t think so!






After our monthly reading log, is our mini lesson section. My students have begun to realize I like order. I like things organized. I like things that match. My reasoning to them? It takes less time for me to grade so I can get more reading accomplished. Honestly, I think that’s the only reason I need. You know that H. Wong book “The First Days of School” that says you must go slow in the beginning and make things right so you can go faster later? I think that is true with setting up notebooks. We go slow, get it right and then we’ll go faster later.



I love our notebooks. I value my students’ thinking and I feel this is the best way for them to share it with me. The last tab in our notebook is “independent thinking”. This section provides space for all of the writing about reading.

I hope this walk through our notebooks has provided you a little bit of help for setting up your notebook.

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Twas’ the night before school starts…

It seems as though the last few weeks have gone by in a flash. Where did all that prep time go? I’ve been working non-stop transforming my sterile white room into a comfortable soothing literacy lounge. I shared my planning and thinking about my room in the last post. I am extremely happy about the way it turned out. There are a few pieces that I haven’t been able to finish (family emergency…more about that later) but we can start school without them. Maybe it will even be fun for the kids to have some new pieces as the year goes on. So without further adieu, here are the pictures.



Since I took this picture, I have moved the UGLY cords hanging from the ceiling. They have been dropped and tucked behind the curtains. One of the pieces that didn’t get finished was the black space above the futon. I have black shelves to hang so I can display front facing books. I hope to get those finished this next weekend. Oh the curtains you say…I have to say I am so happy with this idea. Here is a better picture of them.



Here is our meeting area! Remember,  I have an inside room with no windows. So our projector/smartboard will serve as our window to the world. I took some pinterest ideas and turned book shelves on their sides to provide big kid seating. The U shape has a carpet in the middle for some floor seating. I think we’ll have lots of great mini lessons in this gathering space.  The chart frames hold entire tablets that allow me to build anchor charts. (I asked the custodians to put screws in the wall to hold the entire tablet)



I am a reading teacher. I didn’t want a reading nook in the classroom, I wanted the classroom to be the reading nook. I’ve tried my best to surround the classroom with books and cozy reading spaces. I had a goal of collecting 1,000 titles before school started and I came close with 740. I hope that over time, the library will grow and we’ll have way more than 1,000. Access to text drives my need to have a large classroom library, but I will save that idea for a post of its own.



My space is small and at the back of the room. The room is not mine, its for the students. Enough said.





This is one of my favorite walls. I used black duct tape to make the frames on the wall to keep our hanging charts neat and organized. The file cabinet is one of those pieces that I ran out of time to do, but will make for a fun addition later.

I hope you’ve enjoyed a little peak around my room. I’d love to hear your input.


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Environment Planning

As a literacy trainer, I always pushed teachers to think about their environment. I believe primary teachers completely understand the needs of an adequate classroom environment. However, I don’t think MS and HS teachers consider their classroom environments as much. This is a tragedy! MS and HS students need well planned and thought out classrooms just as much. I’ve been planning my classroom from the minute I accepted the position. I may have even jumped into the “obsessed” category! So here are a few diagrams of what I have planned for my classroom. I can get into my room in 2 days and I hope to have real pictures soon!

1. Color – brings unity

Start by thinking about colors. Your color palette will guide all of your decisions. I chose black and maroon with grey accents. I know black seems like a weird choice, but black will fade into the background so what you notice is what is on it – BOOKS!

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2. Representation – brings life

Now maybe it isn’t responsible to put so much time into “shapes” on a page, but I DO think it’s responsible to think about what your classroom environment represents. I am a 6th grade reading teacher with one section of social studies. I want my room to represent READING! I want my students to feel reading the minute they hit my door. With this in mind, I don’t just have a reading nook or reading area. My whole room “is” the reading area. I hope you can see my vision through the shapes.

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To give off the “reading room”  feeling, every wall will contain books. Since I also have one section of social studies, I hope to blend geography and social studies content throughout the room as well. This wall shows a little bit of that. With the time zone clocks above the white board, baskets of books underneath and bulletin boards that contain content information.

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3. Organization – brings comfort

This is the anchor chart wall. So many times teachers complain about hanging anchor charts for students because they are messy and over stimulating but it is important to have charts up  for students. I hope this diagram shows the ability to have 3 different anchor charts for students while making them visually appealing in an organized manner. The shelf underneath will house Reading Response notebooks from each class. My plan is to make the picture frames with black duct tape. (We’ll see how it works on cinder blocks.)

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4. Purpose – brings functionality

My husband has been very influential over the last few years. Something he requires at home is function. When we recently remodeled our living room our “stuff” couldn’t just be pretty (I know right? crazy man!) it had to have function. I actually love him for that because I learned that it has made life so much easier. Our stuff is very pretty but functional as well. I transferred this new wealth of knowledge to my classroom planning.

So I bring you finally my favorite wall – the front of the room! Here’s a little background about my room. It’s an inside room with NO windows. So you’ve probably noticed I have lamps on every wall…there’s a reason! Lights off with only the glare of the Smartboard in 6th grade? NO WAY 🙂 So bring on the lamps! Plus the light from lamps is a much softer ambience.

Ok now back to the front of the room…Notice how the Smartboard is framed by curtains? My goal is for the board to be our “window” during independent reading time. Hopefully I can use live streaming sites or seasonal screen savers to provide us with something a little less sterile and white. I’m so giddy about the curtains I found too! On clearance – $5. They are a great black and white design. (I can’t wait to hang them and show you) On each side of the board are chart tablets for the current anchor charts. On the left side of the board is where the gutter book shelves will be. I want to display some books with front facing covers. I found a great picture on Pinterest with a black background and black shelves. The books popped off the shelves. So that’s my goal!

The next piece on that page is outside my door. I have a little alcove area that I want to use to set the stage for the inside of our room. I found this great little piece on Craigslist and have the picture frame prepared. Once school is under way I hope to devote an entire post to the Daily 6 Word Memoirs and my alcove area.

I know it is still July and some of you are eeeking the last bit of summer out of your schedules, but for me I’m ready. After 5 years of professional development with teachers, I am more excited to go back to the classroom this year than in any year in the past. This change is exactly what the doctor ordered. After 19 years, I couldn’t imagine having this much zest for teaching again. So I encourage some of you “experienced” teachers to look at your teaching career. Are you in a rut? Are you dreading the start of school? Are you willing the last years of your teaching career away faster than you should? Maybe a complete change in your field is what you need. It’s working for me and I can’t wait to get the year rolling!

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Origami Bookmarks!

Here in Missouri – Today is a snow day! Yes check the date, it’s March 25 and St. Louis received up to 13 inches of snow in some places.


I am on assignment for one of my school sites and found myself passing time at a Comfort Inn…huge pun waiting to be used, but I’ll pass. While I did get a suite upgrade when I checked in, sitting around a hotel isn’t as much as fun as it sounds.

So how to pass the time? Pinterest – Girl! So one of the latest pins I found was here. The cutest little monster bookmarks ever. Immediately I had to try my hand at these with more of a modern touch. So a quick little trip to a craft store for some mod scrapbook paper and I was in business. I am so pleased and can’t wait to let my teachers make their own tomorrow. (of course I got extra paper for them)




I’m already thinking of ways to incorporate these into my classroom next year.

  • Start date/end date
  • Collection of favorite line or words
  • Recommendation notes
  • 5 star rating

It seems as though the ideas are endless. I don’t want “fun” bookmarks to turn into work (i.e. list above) however I think it could be a unique way to keep track of quick reading stuff.




So if any of you have a creative use of bookmarks, I’d love to hear about it.

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Setting up a Reader’s Response Journal (Notebook)

I will apologize now as I feel this might be a lengthy post…but I will attach lots of pictures! (That somehow makes up for so much talking right?)

When I say reading response notebooks – I am not talking about worksheets glued in a notebook. I am not talking about hours and hours of logging reading minutes. I am not talking about responding after every morsel of words read. I am talking about a place that readers can collect their knowledge and thinking about books. A place that provides conference points for readers to discuss reading. A place that shows growth of rich, delicate thinking over time. ~ Forgive the above two food references, I must be wishing for dessert. Since I will be going back into the classroom next year, I of course am planning out my response notebooks. Over the past years I have tweaked the layout, entry points and contents of  RRJs with teachers, but this next year they will be back in the hands of students. I am a processor so I need time to think through things. From now until the first day of school (and everyday after that) I will be processing the best use of my reading response journals.


For me, a Reader’s Notebook has a clear function – to serve as a connection between students and myself. I am all about simplicity with clear purposes. Over time I have streamlined the purpose of a RRJ. I’ve used examples and ideas from many sources and made one that works for me. Here are the 4 pieces I find necessary: reading log, mini lessons, responses or thinking and wordsmithing. Remember, if we begin attaching a heavy “to-do” list with a student’s reading, we are not encouraging real reading, we are fostering the myth that reading is a “school thing.” By MS, students have this school game down. I want to break this cycle. I want each of my instructional practices to foster an idea that reading is not another school subject but is in fact something that will hand with you for a lifetime. I want the notebook to be the least intrusive it can be. Here’s how I do this…


composition notebooks (2 – 1 for fall semester, 1 for spring semester), a few foldables with colored or white paper to establish notebook expectations, ruler, colored pencils, strips of ribbons for bookmarks, tabs (small stickies can work too)


Reading Log – The log’s purpose in my classroom is to serve as a conference point with students. It is simplistic in nature and records only basic needed information that answers these questions: How much is a student reading?, Does the student have a reading plan? and What kinds of texts is a student reading? I can answer these questions with a simple monthly log that requires the start/end date, book title/author, genre and a 1-5 star rating for each finished book. By using this format, students are only logging book information 2 times which allows them more time to actually read. That’s the goal anyway right? A quick look at the log gives the student and myself the talking points we need during a conference. For example, if a student logs 6 books in September and 2 in October and it’s halfway through the month, I have data. Why two?, Is a book bogging he/she down?, Is it a sport season? (less time at home), etc. See? Simple, yet very effective! The first pages of the journal will house the log. One month per page like this.


Mini lessons – Students need to know how to take notes efficiently and effectively. It is part of my responsibility to help them become organized with their learning. By giving them a plan, framework and practice with our mini lessons, I do feel I am accomplishing my duty of teaching them organization. The mini-lesson section is the first tab. After tabbing the page I then count 25 pages (be happy my left brained, math friends) before adding the last tabbed section. Essentially these 25 pages give me 50 pages of lessons. More than I need for a semester, but there just in case! The tabbed page houses a table of contents for the mini lesson section and the following pages are numbered 1-50. Structured, yet simple. Zen-ness 🙂


My Thinking or Responses – This is the bulk of the notebook and contains the most valuable data. The student’s thinking! Students need to understand that their thinking about the texts they’re reading is what helps them grow as readers. As a teacher, it’s important to have a record of how this thinking has grown over time. I don’t want students writing every time they read (remember school work=reading as school work.) However a few times a week gives me data for grading and conferences. How you structure these responses is of course up to you. I will post more about these responses later.


Wordsmithing – We know the research connecting minutes of reading a day with number of words read in a year. But do our students? I want students to take ownership of what reading is doing for them. I have a little section in the back of their journals to house their wordsmithing work. In the past teachers have asked me what do you do with those words? Inside I’m thinking, why do we always have to give students work? Why can’t what we do in class match what it’s like in real life? As a reader, you don’t pull out a worksheet and begin matching definitions, you wonder and ponder and eventually go hmmm, so that’s how you spell “chaos” or something similar and you move on. That’s all. Nothing more. In the beginning I just want students to recognize they are coming across, learning and are exposed to words that are growing their vocabulary. That’s it. Nothing more. If I need to do grammar skills or word work in the future, I will have a collection of words to work from. Theirs – Not mine!


So there you have the essential parts to my notebook. It works for me. It serves a purpose. It’s simple. I hope this has helped you think through the purpose of your notebook.

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Goodbye and Hello!

After five years of literacy professional development, I am making a move back to the classroom. I couldn’t be more excited. I taught for 13 years before coming on as a trainer with Missouri Reading Initiative. It’s hard to believe that change happened only 5 short years ago. Time flies when you’re having fun! Although as the saying goes…all good things must come to an end. It’s time for a change.

I am so excited to announce ~ insert a drum roll and glorious announcer’s voice here ~ I am going to be a 6th grade Reading and Social Studies teacher at Strafford Middle School. Officially an Indian. This move is going to allow me to cultivate my deep love of motivating and guiding readers while incorporating literacy instruction in a content area. 

I decided to keep this blog even though my teaching path has taken a turn. I mean, literacy is my life!  Instead of this blog being a forum for my occasional rants, brilliant ideas or links to teaching treasures as I originally planned, it will become a scrapbook of my classroom evolution. Essentially I hope to post most of my decisions about crafting a place where readers will flourish. I hope you’ll join me on my new Literacy Life path.

I’ve been working with teachers for a while, but I’m guessing the transition back to students won’t be so hard. Stay tuned, I’ll let you know.Image

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21st Century Reading Conferences

Reading Conferences are a personal passion of mine. I truly believe talking 1 on 1, reader to reader, is one of the best ways to grow the reading in your classroom. From 6 to 16, every reader wants to have genuine conversations about books. Why do we teachers seem to ruin this desire? I implore you to rethink your reading instruction if it doesn’t include 1 on 1 reading conferences during reading workshop.

Now most teachers completely agree with the idea of talking books with readers. But how do we keep the records? “How do you organize the records?” seems to be the biggest question I get across the state from my teachers. I’m here to give you a suggestion on how to use the newest form of technology hitting classrooms…iPads.

I am not a technology expert by any means, but I have managed to find a level of technology use that satisfies my needs. I’ve had my iPad for a year now. The first few months were spent telling Mr. G he spent too much money on my birthday present. Now, I’m not sure what I would do without it.

I began wondering how to use my iPad to keep track of student conferences and I have found the answer. I have the app that will conquer your fear of organizing paper notes from conferences. Evernote! This is a free app that has upgrades available. Everything I am going to show you is from the free version. Are you excited yet? I hope this post transforms your thinking about reading conferences.

Evernote – The little green elephant app on the top right side. Go get your free little green elephant and meet me back here to set it up for your classroom.


Now you need to set up your student’s notebooks. Once in Evernote, you will create a notebook for each of your students. (You may reach a maximum number of notebooks in the free version)















The next piece is one of the most exciting features of all. You can keep track of oral recordings, typed notes and pictures all within a dated file. As you add conference notes, you’ll see the notes build. I wasn’t sure how to title them in the beginning, but now I believe dates are the best way to title the notes.


Here is a screen shot of what the note looks like with pictures and imported data from another app, Whiteboard lite. (Unfortunately I can’t this whole note in one screen shot. So imagine as you look at these shots, that you’re scrolling down through the note.) The top of the shot shows words that I kept track of while listening to the student read. Below that is the blue recording of her reading and our conversation.


After the student reading and my note taking, I wanted to show how you can do all work right there on the iPad. This student needed word work. We’ve been working on making analogies between vowel patterns across increasingly difficult words. To do this I used another “free” app – Whiteboard lite. This app lets you write like on a marker board and then save the screen image as a picture. You can then add that picture to the Evernote note, keeping track of the individual word work of each student. Here is our work with “toast.”


You can wrap up your reading conference by taking a picture of the book the student is reading! I feel like this app could is going to transform how teachers connect technologies and old fashioned reading.


I’d love to hear any other suggestions on how you’re keeping the records from your reading conferences.


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752, 333. 72

Miles, 752. Room number 333. Coffee in ounces 72. It is Thursday and by Friday’s end I will have logged over a thousand miles this week alone. Tonight I only have to recall one digit to figure out my room number. In a hotel with three floors, the odds are on my side. Somehow I manage to convince myself that 72 ounces of coffee in one day isn’t all that bad, if I’m washing my kidneys out with 100 ounces of water. My thighs disagree.

My hope, as I embark into the world of blogging, is to create a little record of my time here on earth. This blogging record may have tidbits of my experience as a literacy leader, exploits of my life on the road and, of course, my meager attempt at humor.

I am a trainer for Missouri Reading Initiative. It is my dream job. I travel the state providing professional development in schools to some amazing teachers. I do make candid jokes related to life on the road, but I truly appreciate everyday that God gives me to log another mile. I hope that I can use this forum to pass along some tools of the trade that help me and my teachers.

Being a business traveler allows one to witness crazy, scary, interesting and just plain weird STUFF. Somedays I am amazed and others I just shake my head. One of the hardest parts of being a business traveler for me, possibly because I suffer from numerophobia, is the sea of numbers passing through my senses. The number list is unending; miles, highways, hotel rooms.

My coffee intake started out as a morning routine. As I get older and the days become difficult, I find myself reaching for my warm, toasty treat. This treat has turned into a trick. A thunder thigh trick. Maybe the next post should include a “How to tone your thighs” list. We’ll see.

Next time, “Keeping Track of Your Reading Conferences Electronically”

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