NCTE2020 (virtual)

A year ago, I attended the NCTE2019 conference in Baltimore. I even had the privilege of presenting. Twice. You can read about it HERE. I left Baltimore planning to attend NCTE2020 in Denver, my first trip ever to Colorado. I submitted two proposals. One was chosen. Then Covid.

Instead of booking a hotel and arranging air travel this Fall, I created a slideshow and recorded myself sharing my story of using Reading Notebooks in my classroom. So did three of my colleagues. An added bonus (and probably what tipped the scales to being picked to present), the author, Avi agreed to work with us! We asked if he would be willing to read-aloud one of his short-stories during the presentation. This would allow our audience participants to listen and think and create their own reading notebook page. He agreed and chose the story from The Most Important Thing: Stories About Sons, Fathers, and Grandfathers entitled Tighty-Whities or Boxers? Currently, our presentation is available part of the On-Demand portion of the conference. Our link can be viewed by the 1000s of NCTE participants for the next 60 days.

Last Thursday through Tuesday evening, I participated in the LIVE portion of the NCTE virtual conference. I learned from all the big names in Literacy. Lucy and Steph and Cornelius and Kylene and Georgia and Kelly and Penny. I took pages of notes. I heard recommendations for the hottest new books. And I saved so much money. Hotel. Airplane. Restaurant meals. All free at the virtual conference.

However, it just wasn’t the same. I missed being in the physical presence of other passionate teachers of literacy as we listened together. I missed applauding with them as Trevor Noah share his love of reading fiction. “The stories I read shape me! It is safe to explore topics in fiction.” I missed the room erupting when author, Angie Thomas stated emphatically, “There are no struggling readers. There are only unimpressed readers. To hook all kids on books, we need to change the bait. Kids want books they can connect with. And by the way, books are graphic novels. Books are video game walk-thrus.” I love how she used the metaphor of the movie, Back to the Future. I know the room would have been filled with applause when she shared “The DeLorean is the teacher’s bookshelves! One chance meeting CAN change the future. Be sure to share a variety to the ‘Marty McFlys’ so they don’t become ‘Biffs’. Be sure to diversify your DeLorean!”

Day in and day out, I’m the lone teacher in my classroom, cheering on my students to read, read, read. I missed the opportunity to attend the NCTE2020 pep rally, surrounded by 1000s, all devoted to promoting literacy just like me. I missed being able to give Trevor a standing ovation at the end of his Keynote, as he praised his English teachers, “Teacher taught me how to understand, not just read each letter. Teachers taught me to read the intention of the words on the page.”

Some More Favorites:
Aida Salazar – author of Land of the Cranes – honest story of ICE told by a 9 year old character in verse

Micah Boures – amazing spoken-word poet

NIkki Grimes – love that NCTE ALAN honored her with an award!
LOVE her biography of Kamala Harris!

Jason Reynolds – he said “being at NCTE is like having created the basketball and now you are in the room with 1000 coaches who are ready to teach how to use it.” I love how he talks in metaphor! When asked what he wants his legacy to be, he said, “I want people to say he tried really heard and he made it feel like magic.” His books are magic to me!

Here’s the padlet I posted to throughout the virtual conference. In the first column is a link to my presentation!

Made with Padlet

#NCTE19 Continued

Now that I’ve celebrated Thanksgiving and reviewed all my notes from #NCTE19 in Baltimore, I have a three more highlights to share. (Last week I shared three highlights HERE).

1. Chris Lehman’s group shared a presentation about Rethinking Reading and Writing Workshop.  I especially liked their nudge to add more inquiry lessons. For example, instead of teaching a demonstration lesson on how to use dialogue in writing, this slideshow of 9 slides was shared.  My partner and I viewed all the slides and then answered the Inquiry Question: How does the reader know WHO is speaking? Through inquiry, I came to realize their are so many moves authors make so the reader knows exactly who is speaking. This slideshow also nudges me to create more such examples of more literacy-related moves and have fun exploring with my students through inquiry.

2. I attended the ALAN Breakfast – I learned that ALAN stands for The Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of the NCTE. (I also learned that ALAN meets the Monday and Tuesday following the NCTE Conference. I think I may need to stay longer and attend next year!) At the breakfast, they gave an award to author, John Green and invited Newbery winning author, Meg Medina, to be the breakfast Keynote Speaker.  As few favorite quotes:

John Green: He explained how some things are very hard to express and put into words. For him, “METAPHOR is a way to tell the abstract, a way to express the unexpressible. I felt like….” When talking about the benefits of reading stories – “Stories help us understand others. Stories can be a ladder out of a hole and offer real hope. Stories sometimes jump into the hole with me and stays with me.”

Meg Medina: She explained how when she writes for tweens, the adults in these books are somewhat more reliable. When she writes for teens, the adults are more suspect because in real life, pain can come from the adults in our lives. She also writes books with less happy endings for these audiences. Everything is not all tied up. It ends with more ambiguity because that’s how real life is. she also reminded us that this is the GOLDEN AGE of YA LIT and she reminded all to fight so kids can read more than just old canon of literature.

3. Kylene, Steph Harvey and Cornelius  all talked about Activism in a very packed room. A few take-away quotes:

  • We don’t need to teach kids to be curious. But we do need to model curiosity every day. We MUST foster curiosity with our students.
  • Nothing is too trivial to wonder about!
  • Inquiry is living in a manner that all questions matter.
  • Care about finding the answers and teach how to use reliable sources as we seek answers.
  • Cornelius suggested that as a teacher, we may get promoted for keeping the status quo and it may feel dangerous to speak up. Instead, teachers need to ask: “What practices at school allow kids to be treated unfair?” Ask and seek the answers in public because progress starts at the explosion. When avoided, it is a missed opportunity.
  • A teacher’s duty is to create opportunities for kids. Anything that stands in the way of this, a teacher must speak up.
  • Cornelius says, “I am radically pro-kid!
  • When something is not working at school, hold an inquiry. Gather data. What can we do?
  • Invent something to replace what is broken because kids are not broken!
  • We often think of 2 words when we think of literacy –> read / write ; Kylene suggests we instead think of these 2 words –> power and priviledge. Literacy gives ALL power and with it comes a responsibility.
  • Don’t expect kids to just extract from a text. EXPECT KIDS TO INTERACT WITH THE TEXT and in doing so, bring about change!IMG_6509

I see #NCTE2020 will be in Denver. I see the deadline for submitting Call for Proposals is Wednesday, January 15, 2020. I think I may want to go. How about you??

Screen Shot 2019-12-02 at 7.57.52 PM.png


I am still processing all that just happened in Baltimore but Melanie Meehan’s TWT post HERE inspires me to share three things here today. Then after turkey-eating day, I’ll have time and brainpower to add more.

My Top Three NCTE Moments:
1. I got to present twice!!!
Making Invisible Thinking Visible – Reading Workshop: As my two colleagues and I walked to our room 30 minutes before our 2:30pm start time on Thusday, we saw people gathered around our room. I saw one lady motion and point and say, “This is the notebook one” and we suddenly realized they were gathered for us! We were presenting about our work to help students place their invisible thinking as they read into a reading notebook page, making it visible and helpful when readers talk about a book. We shared our WHY and our process and then we invited the participants to give it a try. Amazing author, Lulu Delacre, read aloud her short story, Burrito Man, from her collection of short stories, Us in Progress. What a treat to have the author read aloud her story! What a treat to have a packed room choose to come learn from us! Here’s the padlet linkwe shared. On it is the link to our powerpoint presentation,  as well as resources we use with our students.

Take Charge of Your PD through Teacher Research – For the past 15 years, I have spent each school year choosing a topic I want to study and do so as a Teacher Researcher. Two of my colleagues and I spent Friday morning sharing our process and we invited the participants to give it a try. They reflected, wrote a question related to a topic they want to learn more about and then they actd as critical friends. All got up and walked around the room and added a suggest to the posted questions. We were honored to have Ellin Keene be our Respondent. She had us pause midway to mention “I am hearing in this presentation a theme of conflict. A teacher researcher embraces the conflict. It is at the heart of the research and the catalyst.” At the end, she reemphasized the importance of teacher researchers being open and allowing their question to evolve because it will change through the process. If you want to know more about teacher research, check out my blog  and here is the link to our presentation. FYI – I call my TR group, ROTA TR CLUB, because “rota” is Latin for wheel and it also stands for Reflect Often, Then Act. 

2. Sara Ahmed’s Moderated Discussion with Five Authors – I used Sara Ahmed’s book ideas as I started off my school year. So when I saw she was moderating a discuss, I went. Plus the title sounded interesting; From Curiousity to Civic Engagement: Using Literature to Create Social Comprehension and Changemakers. What a gift to learn about five YA books that I can easily add to my Social Issues Book Club Unit. I especially liked the questions Sara posed for the authors, questions I will use with my students.
Authors – Book:
Cynthia Levinson – Fault Lines in the Constitution
Katherine Marsh – Nowhere Boy
Laura Resau – Tree of Dreams
Tamara Ellis Smith – Another Kind of Hurricane
Andrea Wang – Magic Ramen

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


3. Crictical Reading, Thinking and Teaching in a Digital Age: Using Inquiry to Make the World a Better Place – I went to this because Maggie Bettie Roberts taught me years ago at TCRWP, Katherine Hsu has taught me in my district and is a briliant presenter, and the other 2 presenters, Katie Muhtaris and Kristin Ziemke, I knew of as great tech teachers. This was a win, win, win, win, win presentation. My biggest take away was about learning a new way to structure my padlets (I already love using padlets!!). It was modeled to move from column to column to read and react. Here’s a link showing how to do an inquiry around my favorite city, Venice – LINK.

More to add….but must go teach today and enjoy Thanksgiving. It goes without saying, I am thankful for smart educators and organizations like NCTE and TwoWritingTeachers who provide gathering spaces.

Oct. 19 – TCRWP Saturday Reunion

I use my blog as a place to process all I hear when I attend workshops and institues. Here are some of my take-aways and photos from Saturday, October 19, 2019 (10-19-19). If you search TCRWP on this blog, you can find other times I blogged as I visited to my “happy place” – the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project!

97th TCRWP Reunion Saturday
I purposefully dressed in my teal, white and blue polka-dotted shirt and headed to Riverside Church. Because I was awake before the sun, I enjoyed this view from my train window as I headed into Manhattan. (Special thanks to my daughter who resides now in Newark, NJ and who housed a collegue and I on Friday night!).


Keynote – Peter Reynolds, author of The Dot and many more books!
He share the backstory of how “Vashti” became the main character’s name in The Dot after meeting a 7-yr old gypsie girl who sold him a flower in a coffee shop as he was sketching out the story one day. He read aloud The Dot and The Word Collector. He suggested that every school should have a “Creativity Department” along with having a supportive Athletic Department. He shared his current work with an Online Publishing Subscrption called Get Published.


I now want to plan a road trip to his Blue Bunny Bookstore outside of Boston! His bookstore sells books and art materials. “I want my customers to be inspired to make their own books.” He ended by showing his Favorite Book – a white covered blank book. “It could be anything. Every day we get another page. We get to write it!”

Jonathan and Book Clubs
I left his hour workshop, committed to getting my students into pairs to talk, talk, talk about books in book clubs! A few of his suggestions included:
* Start with partnerships right away, make it a habit and get pairs talking!!
* Also get partners to know each other – interview each other / share how books are mirrors/windows / read the same book or swap books
* Talk Mats can help / partners bring thinking to share at the end of workshop / set partners up to have debates
* Give more practice during Interactive Rread-alouds and have 2 partnerships sit together to be a Book Club

Shana and Reading Graphic Novels
At the end of her workshop hour, I felt ready to read-aloud graphic novels to my students, something I have not felt confident doing ever. But with Shana’s modeling, I’m ready now!

First she suggested reading/viewing two things to better understand the importance of the medium of the graphic novel: Nerdy Book Club article and Tedtalk by Gene Luen Yang.

Before reading to us, she taught us how to read this medium using this chart:


She reminded us that readers of graphic novels have 2 jobs – read the words and read the images.She emphasized that the “gutter” is where the reader needs to stop, infer and fill in what occurs between panels. “The gutter is tapping us on the shoulder, asking What happened here?”

Then she opened Comic Squad Recess and read to us the short story, The Rainy Day Monitor.She planned it out ensuring we were working on the skills of a NOPQ readers. for example determining the problems: Which trouble is bigger? Rainy day or Becca? img_6271.jpg

She had on display these books:


And ended by showing us a wordless graphic novel called Here I Am. She said it is such a complex book that she levels it as an RST book, despite having no words.

I vow to model and have partners practice the following:
read the words – read the images – read the gutters!

Liz and Up the Ladder: Fiction
I received the Upper the Ladder book days before and asked Liz to sign my copy. She was genuinely honored that I asked!

Then she walked us through all the cool things that come with this resource. It is meant for grade 3 and up and especially for kids who need to strengthen their reading foundations to be ready for grade-level units. LOADS of online resources come with this. Plus 2 read-alouds. Plus videos to watch of each session. I’m looking forward to trying these lessons!

Shana and Closing Keynote
She weaved a touching story about moving her dad into assisted livingand related it to building strong classroom libraries. Some tips: sort by publishing date and weed out books. Sort by cultures portrayed. Sort by race/gender of protagonists. It’s time for EXTREME MAKE-OVER CLASSROOM LIBRARY EDITION!

Thank you, TCRWP! Another Saturday worth traveling in order to learn from you.


TCRWP 2019 Writing Graphic Novels Institute

My new favorite TCRWP staff deveopers: Eric Hand and Hareem Atif Khan

If you are ever at TCRWP and have a chance to attend one of their workshops, DO!

I feel like I hit the jackpot because Eric was teaching about a medium he loves and has loved for years. He shared this page from “Eric the child’s” notebook where he drew covers. His comic book collection served as a perfect mentor text for his cover designs!


And Hareem is so organized and so clear in her instruction. Plus, she even dresses as a graphic novel writer!!


I treated myself to this mini-three day institute because my 6th graders LOVE the medium of graphic novels. And I knew if I learned more about this medium from my favorite place to learn (TCRWP), I would leave loving it too. And I did!!

How did they do it?

As with all learning at TCRWP, they explain the WHY so clearly. Then they guide me through the steps to do the work – in this case, how to read a graphic novel as a mentor text and then how to write my own graphic story.

* Our kids love this medium and as their teacher, I need to value what they like to read and write.
* Our 21st century world is so visual. As teachers, we need to empower our students to understand how to read visuals in order to be informed consumers.
* This medium is perfect for ELL learners due to the picture support.

Also, I learned the history of comics. I had no idea that in 1954 there was a Congressional Hearing which reported that comics were the cause of juvenile deliquency in the country and comics were considered evil and were banned and only something read underground. (No wonder as I attended school in the 70s, comics weren’t a thing.) Today, the medium is gaining acceptance but it is helpful to understand its history.

My Turn
Step 1: Immersion. LOTS of graphic novels of ALL levels were in the room to look at. I noticed the FEATURES in the graphic novel and then thought about So What? My t-chart listed features like sound words, close-ups, panels with text, speak bubbles, etc. I learned vocabulary like gutters and emanata (lines used to show emotions).

Step 2: Doodling!! Just as narrative writers get ideas by thinking of people, places and objects and the small moments related to those people, places and object, I was encouraged to just doodle to get ideas for a character and then doodle another and another. “See where the pencil takes you!”


Step 3: Story Arc ; Then I used all I know about the story arc and made a timeline of the events of my story. (This unit will be out in the Fall, 2019 and Eric and Hareem say it is meant for grades 4-8 at the end of the year. It is a perfect unit to try after the students have already had a narrative unit and now they can transfer the skills into a graphic novel medium.


Step 4: Book Map: Eric and Hareem taught me next to make a BOOK MAP. We used post-its and layed them out to see which 2 pages would face each other in the graphic novel booklet.

Step 5: Thumbnails: Then we sketched thumbnails of each page. On the thumbnail I got to pick how many panels and the size of the panels. I decided who was talking and what details to add to each panel.

Step 6: Drafting: Finally, I got blank paper and got to draft lightly in pencil and then go over using a black flair pen.


Because this institute was only 3 days, I got a taste of each step but still need to work on my finished product. However, I am proud of what I was able to produce!!

Eric also suggested 3 lens to use when having a conference with a graphic novel writer.
Lens 1 – Story Arc – Is there a challenge the character is trying to deal with? Is the resolution believable? Is the setting clear? Does the character change?

Lens 2 – Visual Story – Has the writer decided on number, shape and size of panels? Do decisions match the story? Are the characters distinguished? Would it help to zoom in or zoom out?

Lens 3 – Balloons – Can reader read the words in the speech bubbles? Is the writer using bolding to help reader know how to read the words? Does the font match the mood and tone? Are the balloons in the right order so the talking by characters is in the right order?

Tuesday’s Keynote was Francoise Mouly, the art director of The New Yorker, an iconic  magazine. WOW! She showed the process that a cover goes through. My favorite cover she showed was this:


I AM is grounded. I have is blowing in the wind. I DO shines brightly. What a cover!!

She also is the publisher of TOON books! Because of her, our students now have access to brilliantly crafted graphic books at four reading levels. Be sure to check out her TOON WEBSITE.


Tuesday ended with one of the Toon authors, Kevin McCloskey. He blogs HERE and can be found on twitter @kevinMcWho. He came dressed for the day!


He kindly signed my books and though I teach 6th grade, I plan to have my students read and make a book much like his for a younger audience so we can have fun being graphic novelist!

On Day 3, Eric showed how to do a read-aloud of a graphic novel using 300 Words, a short story in Comic Squad: Recess. Now I feel confident in replicating read-alouds using this medium. I just needed Eric to model it for me.

Screen Shot 2019-05-06 at 10.14.26 PM

I trained home to VA Wednesday evening with a bagful of new graphic novels to share with my students, with a new love for the medium of graphic novel/comics and with the confidence to keep writing my graphic story and guide my students to give it a try too.

It’s clear to me why my two new favorite TCRWP staff deveopers are Eric Hand and Hareem Atif Khan!

2018 August Writing Institute

What a great week I had, thanks to TCRWP (and my daughter who housed me in Brooklyn)! Here are many highlights (sorry, it is lots to scroll down through but my week was filled with such great learning!)

Lucy’s Opening Keynote – My Favorite Ideas / Lines…

* Because the information of our world doubles EVERY 2 DAYS now, Tony Wagner says, “knowledge is like air” and because of this, our role as a teacher is different in the 21st century. Now a teacher’s main role is to help students gain access and critically think about the info. What can I do with this information?

* Because of Social Media, kids are on an emotional rollercoaster. Seeing others having fun and getting or not getting “likes” is emotionally hard. We must give students vehicles to make meaning. Writing can be that vehicle!

* Writing is a tool to take the traumas of our lives and make meaning.

* We don’t want to be alone in the hardest parts of our lives. Lucy illustrated this point so well through a touching story about her father waiting alone for help to arrive and then together they checked to see if his wife was still alive after a stroke. He didn’t want to check while he was alone. (She is OK and they are 98 and 95 pictured below!)


* Be with people around things that matter.

* She gave a shout-out to a fav of mine – Congressman John Lewis! he reminds us: when you see something, speak up and speak out. (You might want to watch his 2018 Commencement Speech at Harvard!)


* Writing Workshop should allow writers to take risks so they can grow. Even the good writers should grow from very good to great.

* When you first start workshop work, it can feel like pulling teeth (Level 1). Then the good teacher leads and the students comply (Level 2). The goal is Level 3 – ALL IN Writing Workshop which is filled with intensity, passion, vulnerability.

* How do we get to Level 3? Students write about topics that truly matter to them. Teacher shares their writing notebook, their real writing with their students. And move from the story that anybody could write to making it YOUR OWN story. Also, provide time for LISTENING and SHARING to build community!

* Teach students to listen through the topic to hear the truth. Lucy quoted a line from a poem (I didn’t get the author) “It’s all in the pleats” . I like that image!

* Don Murray says, “Listen so I will hear what I have to say.”

Lucy ended with sharing her writing process as she prepared to give the toast at her son, Miles’s, wedding that occurred two weeks prior. A lovely toast full of meaning and truth because she generated ideas, drafted, revised, and followed the essay structure of reason and evidence. I felt honored to hear her process and the toast! Cheers!

Mary’s Session on Revision through Strong Partnerships

DAY 1:
Mary Ehrenworth first taught my friend Marilyn and I as we sat in the front row at Lerner Auditorium at my first Institute during the summer of 2009. Together Marilyn and I sat again and learned SO much from this amazing educator. She has kept learning so I keep coming back to learn more and more. The topic this week was all about how to build powerful partnerships. She stored resources we accessed and created on this padlet. 

I loved writing and following a process to set myself up for a great conversation with my partner which resulted in a much better draft of a story!! But Mary didn’t stop there. She had asked us to bring a notebook and post-its and colored markers. She then had us reflect on all the steps she led us through and make a Process Chart to remember these steps. By making it, I began to own this process. I could replicate it again because it was in my long term memory and also right here in my notebook!!


What was powerful was taking a Museum Walk and seeing ALL the ways others made their process page. A table was from Montreal and of course, their work was in French!

I teach Reading this year so I’ve been reflecting on ways to transfer this to instead of narrative story writing, to writing about reading. I’m excited to guide my 6th graders in being strong partners in Reading Workshop as we write about our reading, reflect on our goals and build reading volume.

Day 2:
Mary shared about the book How Kids Succeed by Paul Tough   and mentioned that when he studied top kids, they had strong notebooks, had study partners and did more related to their school subjects outside of school. As a teacher, I can share this info as justification for partner and notebook work!

Mary said we need to help kids make their own charts so they learn to outgrow always relying on the teacher giving it to them. The charts should have enough detail to remind me how to do it through words and visuals and make you want to do the work!

Today Mary had partnerships choose from and discuss:
* teacher written story (found in Pathways) – read, notice, annotate/code it – This tool could be helpful to me by….
* Student written story (found in Pathways or samples a Teacher can collect) – Read – Notice – Code it – Try it
* Pathway Checklist – pick a few things on the checklist and try it
With my partner, we discussed: Where in our writing can we do this work?

Day 3: Process Tool Page
Mary reminded us that if we make our own chart, we will story in our long-term memory how to do this process.
So I made this page:


Mary suggested the analogy of a good partner like a Pit Team member (instead of a cheerleader). The pit team does all they can do to get the race car back on the road quickly to win the race. A good partner does all they can to be positive and keep their partner writing!

Day 4: Mentor Text!

My partner and I read the amazing short story, Gate A-4 by Naomi Shihab Nye. We individually annotated it, trying to name the techniques and goals by this author. Then we talked. Then Mary gave us just 10 minutes to add to our notebook and I created this.


My colleagues:

We ended with time to have a Book Club discussion around the mentor text. Such a good idea to connect the reading and writing work!

Day 5: A treat!!!!! Mary invited Marjorie Martinelli to teach us how to sketch. If you don’t know Marjorie, check out her Smarter Charts book and her blog, Chart Chums

Marjorie two tips: “If you can’t do a quick sketch, the writing is not clear.”
and “Drawing is looking.”

Here’s what I was able to draw, following Marjorie:

Mary then had us get into grade level groups and brainstorm where this new work we did fits into the Units we are already teach. She stressed that we can’t just insert and make the unit longer. We can substitute a session or remove Bend 3 and add these lessons learned this week. The Publishing date must stay the same so find a way to fit it in!

I will continue to reread this notes and reflect on ways to transfer this writing partnership work to my Reading Workshop with my 6th graders this year. If you have Reading Workshop Partnership ideas, please share them with me!


During the August Writing Institute, I took photos and all summer long, I’ve saved images I liked from twitter and then posted everything to this padlet. I also posted some of my favorite videos. Padlet makes it so easy to share as it is an electronic bulletin board. Lots to take in! Take a peek to be inspired!


Day 1: Mike opened his session with something to watch. He said since it had already been a busy morning, this could help us “clean the pallet!” As I watched, I decided this WAS a visual essay! Art Teacher by Rufus Wainwright

He shared THIS PADLET of Resources with us (which I’ll post as soon as I find the link?? It isn’t showing up on my SHARED page of my Dashboard?)

Thin-Slicing of Data: He gave us student essay writing and had us look quickly at it and place it in a LOW/MEDIUM/HIGH group. Then we picked one from each pile and NAMED what they WERE doing (as opposed to seeing all that is missing). My NAMING LIST looked like this:

IMG_3165 2

He reminded me of the power to name all a writer IS doing. Then in conferences and small groups, I can use this thin-slicing of data to guide my instruction.

Then Mike got me writing ideas for essays. I thought about books I’ve read and the issues in the book and I thought about my world and the issues I see in the world. I drafted about issues related to jails after reading Kate Messner’s newest book Breakout. Thinking about the world, I wrote some about gun violence, immigration, too much screen time and my changing neighborhood.

We orally rehearsed one idea with a partner (this helped me think of MORE to write) and he shared elaboration prompts to grow an idea, too.

For homework, we were to start reading an essay from those he posted to the padlet to be ready for essay book club discussion on Friday and to pick ONE essay topic.

Day 2: First we practiced orally rehearsing an essay with the following CLAIM and REASONS and orally added evidence – lists and microstories.

IMG_2838 Then we got busy writing. First we stated our TOPIC. Then we wrote a CLAIM. Then we thought of LOTS of reasons using different prompts from Mike. He modeled with the topic of SHOES.


Finally, he showed us this visual as a help to structuring the basic essay.


Then he had us write our CLAIM with REASONS down and hand in. He suggested this is a great way to ensure writers are on track. If you don’t check in , they may get too far along a path that isn’t clearly structured and then it is harder to start over. Mine looked like this:


Day 3: After setting up our own essay using either a booklet or folders, we switched gears from Personal Essay to Literacy Essay. Mike had us view the Panyee FC video (5th grade Literary Essay Unit lesson) and I focused on characters and theme and easily drafted an essay using this claim: The Panyee FC learns that a dream can be reached through collaboration. This is shown at the beginning….in the middle…Finally, at the end. He also made the point that a comparison essay could be written between these boys and the boys stuck in the cave this summer.

Day 4: Mike showed us a fun way to use post-its and a printer to help notice craft moves in a mentor text.

Then he gave us time to make a TOOLKIT PAGE specifically related to essay writing predictable problems. Here are photos I took during the Museum Walk (love Advance Sections because of all the smart people in the room doing work!).

Day 5: On day 1, Mike had shared essays. I read James Balwin’s Notes of a Native Son. With 2 others, we discuss favorite lines, favorite parts, as well as Balwin’s craft moves. I had never read this author and now want to read more by him.  Mike shared a little about the Up The Ladder books he co-authored. As a MS writing teacher, I think I’d buy these and use them since students come to MS not having Workshop in ES. Then we got in small groups and shared the essays we wrote as a celebration! Always inspiring and moving!


Dwight on Writing Notebooks – biggest take-away for me is that MSers like celebrities. So show them video clips of celebs talking about their writing process. (Since I teach Reading, I plan to look for celebs talking about books they are reading!)

Cornelius Miner on Literacy and Social Justice – WOW!!
“Literacy makes us unfit for oppression. It creates the possibility for freedom.”

He believes we can help students tranfers how they learn a skill in academic literacy, like writing to learn a skill to help them with social literacy.

For example, elaboration is a writing skill. There are many strategies to follow to elaborate (be honest with kids – not 1 strategy – lots – they can pick!). One strategy is to answer why questions. Now, to do this strategy, name how you do it, step by step. For example. I write down what happened. Then I ask Why did that happen. I answer in my head the why. Then I write it down, as a way to elaborate.

Cornelius suggests we can follow this same process to build strategies for freedom, based on people who are proficient at freedom. He asked us to wirte down names and I wrote down Congressman John Lewis.  Others in the workshop named: James Baldwin, Robin Diangelo, Bryan Stevenson, and Ijeoma Oluo (made me realize I need to learn about these people!)

What did ______ do to support freedom?

For example, Bryan Stevenson is known for supporting freedom by helping to shift perspective.  This is a skill he had. His strategy was to name how a topic affects you and the world to get the listener to change their idea.

Using this skill, Cornelius asked us to try to change our partner’s perspective. Partner A does not like bees. Partner B sees a value to bees in the world. As we discussed, we channeled Bryan Stevenson’s skill of shifting perspective.

In closing, Cornelius reminded us that Freedom Heroes are real people who can be studied. They that study can help teach social literacy. It is a systematic way to promote freedom.

Final quote by Thomas Jefferson, “Our greatest protection against tyranny is public education.” (he wrote this in his notebook!)

Cornelius reminded me that I have SO much more to do. First, I started by learning about and reading an essay by James Baldwin.

Eric Hand on Informational Text – Anytime I have a choice, I’ll pick Eric!! He is such a clear and well prepared presenter! Eric shared FOUR THINGS TEACHERS CAN DO TO HELP INFORMATION CRAFT WRITING.
1. Teachers need to grow their knowledge of the qualities of info writing. Read and annotate. Get familiar with the progressions. Get familiar with the pages in the back of the If-Then book. Have Technique/Goal Pages in two colors, laminate or cut up and use as talking about an Info piece.
2. Expose Writers to Well-Crafted Text – like books by Kevin McCloskey. He read us this and it is so simple but such a great info book!IMG_2864

3. Show your love of Info Writing – find a topic and write!
4. Open Up Choice and keep kids writing info!

Tim Steffen on Historical Fiction – he ran through specifically how to teach the 4th grade HF Unit. One take-away was when he had us “read” a primary source image and questions to ask with the image. I could see replicating this work in Reading Workshop.


Carl Anderson – he shared LOTS about his newest book coming out soon. He reminded us to, instead of seeing what is missing in a student’s writing, to see the beauty in their writing. To notice what is there and what they are doing or at least approximating. He ended by showing a video called Monkey Business Illusion and said it was a metaphor for our work, a reminder to really look and see what is there. His daughter is now grown and dis the illustration comic-like heads and in the speak bubbles is an optimistic statement and a pessimistic statement. He hopes we remain POSITIVE as writing teachers to help keep kids writing!

Matt di la Pena – second time I’ve heard him speak at TC. I will admit that I was exhausted (afternoon of Day 3) so I sat and enjoyed his stories. A few lines I jotted down:
* You can’t be a good writer without being a great reader.
* Reading became his secret place to feel.
* His first book to help him feel – The Color Purple. (still need to read it)
* The book he gave his dad – One Hundred Years of Solitude (still need to read it)
* He ended by reading aloud his book, Love.

Peter Brown – author of:

and he signed my book!


He does so much research to write and draw his books! Very Inspiring!

5th Grade Connection Group arranged by Ryan Scalia

This is another reason why I keep coming back to TRCWP – the people who attend are so great! Ryan invited other 5th grade teachers to meet up with him after the Keynote on Tuesday and a small group met. I came because I knew Ryan from other Institutes and had taught 5th grade writing a few years ago. Ryan created a folder to share notes and on Thursday we grabbed dinner together. It is fun and motivating to find like-minded teachers and share!


2017 October TCRWP Saturday Reunion

I attended this amazing TCRWP Saturday Reunion October 21st for the first time as a 6th grade reading teacher. My lens for the day was how to support my 6th graders during Reading Workshop. Of course, ALL my needs were met and then some because I got to spend the day with the smartest literacy leaders on the planet! Here are some of my take-aways.

Workshop #1 and #2 – Mary Ehrenhart
(I stalked her and learned from her over 2-hours!)
* MS may have been the time a teacher taught a book a quarter. Instead of teaching a book, plan to teach students as they read many books. Give them choice in what they read and teach them how to read this genre. Use “the book” as you model the teaching points.
* Have accurate expectations of the students. Don’t dumb it down for the new 6th graders to a 6-7-8 Middle School. Instead, take time to find out how they were taught in 5th grade (visit feeder ES in June) and keep expectations high.
* Tell them WHY they are in RW – by being a strong reader, all other subjects will be easier and their stamina to read for long periods of time with grow, allowing them to handle longer state/national test. Also, people who read are different – more empathetic and tolerant and open-minded so read to be a better person!
* Suggested having students pick a Course of Study to keep them reading lots, by picking a genre and series within that genre and reading LOTS and then another and another, studying within this course.
* Have an inviting classroom library with books arranged more like bookstores! Take time to Book Talk books and share book trailers.
* Bands of Complexity is something to study and teach into. Explain the characteristics of Bands of Complexity and  help readers move from one band to the next.

* This was an example of how a RN page might look as you are working on RST character work. By using the removable post-it notes, the reader can move the character traits to rank them or change them in different parts of the book. I liked the way she shared this flexible way to share one’s thinking.img_0046.jpg

*Mary reminded me that as I do my read-alouds, I need to also be adding to my notebook! Duh! But something I haven’t been taking the time to do…YET! I needed Mary’s nudge.

Workshop #3 – Laurie – Raising the Level of RN – Move from Reacting to Analysis

Predictable Problems

  • too much time is spent writing, taking time away from reading which does more harm than good. The RN is the place to practice skills, get feedback and always have the choice as how to place thinking on the page of the NB. Model the TIME so reading time stays strong!
  • Not having a book to think about in their RN – Use Course of Study to get them into a favorite genre or help them find a series at their level or allow a struggler to read the book I am also reading to the class or put students in Book CLubs to have the support of their club.
  • Kids not excited about books – do book talks, have authors visit, make my library look more like a Book Store’s display, do book swaps, hang laminated book covers and then kids can write on it their name that they read it or their review of it, use padlet to share book ideas.
  • Kids don’t know what to put in notebook – show and model LOTS of ways RN pages can look / gallery walks to get more ideas.Charts, sketches, color, poems (give the character a poem!), #jots – lay them all out and ask SO WHY these hashtags and write about that.
  • GIve them a Menu to choose what to write about. This is a blurry photo but the idea is to offer choose and the last column is a MUST DO – include text evidence!


She ended with having us watch a video, one I hadn’t seen before called SNACK ATTACK.  (Click on title to view it!) I loved the process she had me do to write about the reading of the video. She played the first part where the old women is trying to get the snack from the vending machine. Then she paused it and said, “Write a jot about the woman, but make it your worst jot. So I wrote, The old lady is hungry. She is mad when food gets stuck. Then she said, “Watch to make a better jot.” She played the middle part of the video where old lady is sitting on the bench. Then she paused it and said, “Now write a better jot about her.” I wrote – Old lady is strong willed and assertive when she thinks that something that is hers and when what she worked hard to get is being taken away. Then she played to the end of the video and I added to my jot – In the end, she realizes her mistake and shows she does have a heart and feels remorse. My partner wrote – The old lady is like a villain while appearing like the victim – definitely higher level thinking! I loved this process!!! It helped me to start out simple and it easily pushed me to be more complex. I can’t wait to try this with students!!

Workshop #4 – Hannah – Making the Invisible Visible
Writing About Reading is better if only 10% of the time is spent on it – so if they read for 30 minutes, writing about it is 3 minutes. It helped to have her name just how few minutes get spent on this to ensure reading time doesn’t get hijacked.

Writing About Reading is better when you help push the reader past their 1st thought to a 2nd thought. Ex: Take a jot – now expand on it – this helps the writer go deeper.

Writing About Reading is better when you help them move between the 2 ends of the Ladder of Abstraction, remembering that we don’t write to prove but instead, we write to think! Ex: big ideas –> detail —>  detail —> big idea IMG_0053

BIGGEST TAKE-AWAY – “The RN is not to just be a house for your jots” Instead, model ways to lift the thinking in it to be deeper thinking work.

In the Beginning of the Text –
Consider many different ideas – questions you are asking as the reader, the setting, the characters – make a list of all of them and their traits
Goal – not to prove anything yet. Instead, stay flexible, notice lots, it is the beginning so play around with ideas

In the Middle of the Text –
Decide on lines of thinking worthy of pursuing and set up ways to hold on and track this thinking. As you read on, question ideas in light of new evidence, moving past snap judgments.
Goal – set up a system to gather ideas with this lens so that what you continue to notice can help you grow a theory.img_0055.jpg

In the end – solidify your ideas, draw conclusions, reflect on theme/theory, write with claims and evidence.

  • As a reader, I can take notes as I read. However, the true job of the Reading Notebook is that it is a place to take ideas about your reading and now analyze them and show strong, deep, complex thinking work.
  • I can syudy RN exemplars found on TCRWP website together with your students
  • MODEL!!!! As I read-aloud, model how to write about reading in the beginning, middle and end of the book.
  • Help students create a Daily Work Plan – Where are they in their book? How many chapters/pages today? Will they use a tool? What is the thinking work they are doing? FullSizeRender 3
  • Introduce Thought Prompts and model using them:IMG_0058
  • Use Learning Progressions to help readers set goals. Model how they can go back and revise this work to raise it  – more thinking at this level or move toward next level.

I am so grateful that I could train up to NYC to learn from these amazing educators. I did have to watch the clock as I had to rush out to meet up for a family dinner in CT so I couldn’t hear Lucy’s closing Keynote:(   But on the train to CT, I read tweets posted about it. Two stuck with me – Send 4 gratitude emails a week and Take risks in the company of others).

Thank you Mary, Laurie and Hannah. Thanks to your generous sharing, this VA teacher is energized to help my 116 6th graders do stronger work in Reading Workshop this year and many more kids in the years to come!

What are YOU and YOUR students doing in their Reading Notebook?
Did you read an idea here that YOU might try?
Keep reading…..deeply!

2017 National Book Festival

I am truly lucky that I get to live near the Nation’s Capitol where annually (since First Lady Barbara Bush started this) children’s authors come to town and hour after hour, I can sit and listen to a variety of the best writers. My TOP EIGHT:

1. R.J. Palacio – “We can’t stop showing kindness.” Movie release is Nov. 17th!

2. Madelyn Rosenberg and Wendy Wan-Long
They co-wrote a HF book set in the 1980s called This is NOT a Test

3. Chris Van Dosen
He is the illustrator for the Mercy Watson books.
He just published Hattie and Hudson – first book with a girl character and first that doesn’t rhyme.

4. Kate DiCamillo!!!!

5. Letters About Literature Contest – Due Dec. 7th…maybe I help kids enter!

6. Carmen Agra Deedy – The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet – This book encourages us to USE our voice, a message so important in 2017

7. Cokie Roberinson – Library of Congress named her a Living Legend!
She was upset that US History left women out so she started writing about Founding Mothers. Her newest book is about other women who helped to build our country and make it great.

Her next project – a book about the women who helped women vote in USA because 2020 is the 100th Anniversary of the vote.

8. Reshma Saujani – Girls Who Code founder. She is an inspiring speaker! I left ready to start a Girls Who Code Club at my Middle School!

Favorite quote: “You cannot be what you cannot see.”

I also later wathced her TEDtalk about how girls are taught to be perfect and boys are taught to be brave but this is something we can/must change.

2017 August Writing Institute – highlights of the Keynotes

“Why was this Institute so great?” my family asked. It really did feel like the BEST one I’ve attended and this was my 12th Summer Institute so I have many to compare. After reflecting, I think it was the balance of intense learning in my small group sessions with sheer entertainment at the end of each day. “It was because of the daily ending Keynotes! I ended each day listening to amazing storytellers share and all of them did it humbly out of love for teachers. I felt appreciated and so entertained!!”

Tuesday: Author, Katherine Paterson

FullSizeRender 3Favorite Things She Said:
~ This speech is my thank you to all of you teachers. You do the hardest work without much applause.
~ I write to do what the Secret Garden did for me.
~ Rather than events, my stories are the emotional memory of my childhood.
~ Reading books allowed me to eavesdrop on another’s soul.
~ When I was signing books at a prison where inmates had read Gilly, I asked if any had been in foster care. ALL raised their hands.
~ When signing an inmate’s book, he said, “It’s not for me. It’s for my daughter, Angel.”, I knew now her inspiration for naming the main character in Same Stuff As Stars, Angel!

** I closely read Same Stuff As Stars this summer and worked to understand the characters and their motivations. At the end, I pushed myself to write long about possible themes explored in the book. I so enjoyed Katherine Paterson reading aloud from this book during her keynote. If you haven’t read it, DO. If you haven’t seen the movie, The Great Gilly Hopkins, DO. There is a cameo appearance by Mrs. Paterson and Kathy Bates plays a superb Maime Trotter!

Wednesday – Poet and Playwright, Daniel Beaty

FullSizeRender 2

As I watched Daniel perform, I truly felt like I was watching a genius. He performed the beginning of the one-man play he wrote called Emergency where he plays 43 different characters/voices. It is about a slave ship raises out of the Hudson in present day NYC! I was mesmerized as his voice changed from the news announcer to a 74 yr old grandma to a 14 year old girl and her boyfriend. And through all these characters, a strong message came through! If you ever have the chance to see Daniel perform live, do it! Until then, here are some links:

You can view Part 1 here as performed on YouTube

He also is know for this poem Knock-Knock that was made into a picture book.

Screen Shot 2017-08-06 at 8.44.46 PM

Knock-Knock performance on YouTube

Run Black Man Run performance on YouTube

Dance Mama Dance performance on YouTube

Seeing him live was a treat. Hearing his childhood story was inspiring. “I was saved by my 3rd grade teacher who went above and beyond for me. He clearly is the author of his own story and he inspired me to think the same and to believe we can transform pain to power. To learn more about him, go to his website.

Thursday, Storyteller and Author, Carmen Agra Deedy


My favorite quote from her story came right as she, as a 5th grader, was bullied into pulling the fire alarm as a 5th grade class prank. She said, “The first five minutes of sun is awesome.” !!

This was my fourth time hearing Carmen and it was so entertaining. She really knows how to tell a great story!

My notes from seeing her at the 2011 . National Book Festival

My notes when I first discovered Carmen in the summer of 2011 and the link to her TEDtalk

Not part of the Institute but occurring in NYC:

Thursday, Author Kwame Alexander presented his newest book, Solo at Bank Street Auditorium and I sat in the front row as his guitarist, Randy, his co-writer, Mary Hess and he read aloud with music in the background. It was so excellent to listen to him read the poems that tell his newest story and also get a sense of how his personal life is weaved into this story.

When talking about the music in the book, he said he came to love rock and roll in High School. He admitted that he wasn’t very cool. “But the music helped us feel cool.”

He met Mary, his co-writer, three and a half years ago. She is in his writing group. She suggested writing a book set in Kenya at first. Then it became a book about Ghana. They both wrote and wrote. Then, like a puzzle, they put the pieces together.

Randy is a retired English teacher. He asked to come on the Booked book tour. In the evening, they would sit and write songs together! Click HERE to see the music video that goes with the book. 

Because I was part of his Launch Team (receiving the book before its August 1st release, I was invited to his private party. It was held at the Langston Hughes House in Harlem. By evening, my phone was out of power so I have no pictures. But click HERE to see me the next morning return to the house and recite my favorite Langston Hugh poem.

YouTube video  – Kwame about writing SOLO

Kwame’s website

I’ve always thought that writers are ROCK STARS!! This 2017 August Writing Institute allowed me to experience four rock stars!! NO wonder this felt like the BEST TCRWP Institute yet!


2017 August Writing Institute – Advance Group with Hannah Arlone

My 2nd Advanced Group at the August Writing Institute was entitled Making, Finding, and Tapping the Power of Mentor Text (3-6) given by Hannah. I knew Hannah already because she is the staff developer who worked with my Arlington, VA school this past year with Reading. At the Institute, I got to spend an additional 5 days with her! Here are some brilliant highlights, all related to using Mentor Text in Writing Workshop.

Why Mentor? We all need someone who inspires us to do better than we know how. We watch a mentor, listen, name what they do and then try to do it. If someone wanted to get better at skateboarding, they would watch youTube videos of better skateboarders and then try it. Learning from a mentor text follows the same steps. Teach it well and remind students that interacting and learning from mentor text is a life-long skill.

When? Find time to teach this routine in introduce a writing unit. As a whole class, work on reading as a writer with a shared mentor text. Then try writing like that writer did. Then push toward independence by show how to find own mentor writing.

How to Choose a Mentor Text
1. Fall in love after reading book like a reader
2. Ask “is this a good fit?”
3. Now fall in love with the craft moves by reading it again
4. Read with writer eyes, noticing and naming out specific craft moves
She modeled these steps using Down the Road by Alice Schertle

Steps to Read Like a Writer
1. Notice someting about the craft of the text
2. Talk about it and make a theory
3. Give it a name – Writers so …by…
4. Think of other text you know where you have seen this move. Writing really isn’t unique – read lots to see craft moves more!
5. Try and envision using this craft move in your own writing.

We ended with a Write Around – she passed out xerox pages from Down the Road. We wrote on the chart paper around the text the craft moves we noticed. We moved from table to table noticing 3 different pages. Then we returned to see what was added to chart we started at. This exercised helped me to better complete this sentence stem:

One way this writer _________ does the craft move called ______ is by _________.

As I get ready to start another school year, I want to keep these questions in my mind so I create a classroom culture of independence.
1. How can I support students to choose mentor text that further their writing?
2. How do I get them to interact more with books so they have more books to choose?
3. What routines need to be in place so kids independently choose mentor texts?

Hannah had us do 2 events to experience books: a book tasting and book speed dating!
For Book Tasting, she placed a handful of books by these authors on each table group: Jane Yolan, Jacqueline Woodson, Cynthia Rylant, Soto, Naomi Nye, Cisneros, Eve Bunting, Patricia Polacco, Kate DiCamillo and Ralph Fletcher, Then we simply went from table to table to “taste” the book. She modeled a way to take notes using 3 columns –> author, title, reflection. Keep this question in mind – Be looking for writing that will improve your own writing. She also placed a biography of the author. I think I’d also add a photo of the author so students know this is a real person and get a sense of their age and gender.

Tips for a good Book Tasting:
1. Include a variety of authors
2. Have choice – move when you are ready to find another book.
3. Provide ways to notetake but make it a choice
Tips for Book Speed Dating:
1. All pick a book to share
2. Sell that book – can use these stems:
The reason I love this book is because ____.
One way this author, ____, pushes me to write ____ is by ____.
If you are the kind of writer who is _____, you might like to check out this text, ___.

Other ways to encourage kids to read books to then try out as a mentor text:
1. feature a spot in the room
2. have a designated mentor text shelf
3. have a padlet where kids can add mentor text they are using
4. kids make iMovie trailers about books and share
5. Mock Caldecott / Newbery
6. March Book Madness book bracket
7. Participate in Global read-aloud
8. Morning Meeting – share a beautifully crafted line from a book
9. Reread a read-aloud as a writer, naming craft moves
10. make experts in the room – kid who writes like an author and hang student writing and mentor writing up on chart paper.

Hannah reminded us that most of my time teaching with Mentor text will happen in a conference or a small group. The units of study only have a specific lessons written in but I need to be ready to teach using mentor text outside of the mini-lesson.

Hannah gave us time to practice using the Writing Pathways Checklist when marking up our mentor text. She suggested using difference colored post-its for different parts of the checklist. EX: pink=structure / blue=development  /  green=convention

As she demonstrated this, I liked her sentence stems:
Watch me as I figure out a craft move.
What is the author doing here?
The author in this piece is ____.
How would it sound in my writing?
I’m writing ___ and will try ____.

Hannah also shared TCRWP Goal and Technique cards for narrative, opinion and nonfiction found in the 6-8 Units of Study. One example of the goal card is found on their website here.

Suggested stem: The author’s goal is to ______. The author does this by ______(name technique). I need to add these to my toolkit and have them ready to use in a conference and small group!

One Day4, Hannah modeled a way to have students be exposed to mentors through centers. Here are the center direction cards:






I can easily see adding center cards like this to Google Classroom so writing partnerships can choose to study mentors. Hannah also suggested that the whole book does not need to be looked at – it could just be a xeroxed page from a book. The goal is to get kids in the habit of having LOTS of exposure to text and to be on the look out for text that they can independently use to raise the level of their writing.

Digital Mentor Text – I had fun watching the nonfiction text and opinion text and naming the craft moves done by the person in the video. All the videos we watched are on this padlet Hannah also created this 2nd padlet for us to add to with more digital links related to teaching with mentor text.

I personally can say that I used many mentor texts while working on my writing with week. And it made, in my opinion, my writing better!! I look forward to using Hannah’s ideas to help my students do the same! Finally, Hannah makes great anchor charts! Here are a few she made and hung in our room as we worked together all week.