Where I’m From: Luminous Lines


I’m from the ding of the bat

          On the hard dirt of the baseball diamond

I’m from the smooth leather

          And the weed wacker spraying grass


I’m from Hubei

          Whose Swan Hotel was big and grand

I am from church

          From my faithful friends at Sunday School

I’m from my grandpa

          Whose long gone bomber still fills the sky


I’m from math

          From zero to nine

From chalk on my leotard

          After gymnastics every day

From pumpkin pie on rainy nights

          And books I had to wait for

I’m from mac&cheese and ice cream

          TV to hairspray


I’m from Hurry Up and Hold On

          From the “I know’s” and “I told you so’s”

               From the Why’s and the What If’s


I am from games

          From Fortnite and Roblox

From Pokemon

          Making sure I Catch ‘Em All

From Warhammer

          Where the Necrons hide


I’m from the plains and the forest

          From a tent on the ground and crunchy leaves

From the black sky dancing with stars

          On cold campfire nights

From the snow

          Cold in my gloves

From the end of the rod

          Bouncing up and down

               Up and down


Who I am

Is who I’m meant to be

I am my own.

Being the Change, #cyberPD 2018: Sketchnoting Chapters 3&4

The #cyberPD community reminded me of something I learned last year: When I sketchnote I revisit my notes more often. Colleagues are also much more interested in my sketchnotes than in the lengthy, hyper-detailed notes I’m prone to taking. So, here are my take-always from our reading this week.

Being the Change, #cyberPD 2018: Newly-Released Books

Summertime is reading time. Of course, I read during the school year, but I read at least twice as much in the summer. As I do, I am on a quest to find the books. The welcome picture book. The first read aloud. The book that will make my 5th graders laugh uncontrollably. These must be exceptional books, and they have to be brand-spankin’-new. I want these to be books no one has read previously. (I’m a big believer in the power of rereads, but for these important firsts, I want to start with a clean slate!) In August of 2017, those special books were: You’re Finally Here! by Melanie Watt, Lemons by Melissa Savage, and The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors by Drew Daywalt.


I’ve been busy on my quest this summer. I’ve read 17 middle-grade novels and nearly as many picture books. I haven’t settled on the books for August 2018 yet, but I have read some excellent contenders! In the process, I’ve noticed Being the Change has become an important filter for me. Even before I get to the bookstore, I’m reading reviews with a Being the Change lens. I’m looking for books that will give us especially rich opportunities to discuss good listening, identity, names, bias, and microaggressions. I realize that most books have elements that would lend themselves to these thoughtful conversations, but here are some new releases (in addition to the excellent lists Sara provides on pp. 135-136) that have stood out to me in my personal quest. Note that the list is a balance between books I’ve read and loved and books I’m highly anticipating.

Picture Books

Julian is a Mermaid – Jessica Love

This is a quiet picture book with very few words and rich illustrations that tell much of the story. I’ve read it several times and each time I love Julian’s Abuela more.

Middle-Grade Novels

The Parker Inheritance – Varian Johnson

A mystery, part tribute to The Westing Game, part historical fiction, The Parker Inheritance examines racism as it existed in the 1950s and as it exists today in the same small South Carolina town. A fascinating look at the many ways racism, bias, and prejudice keep people from being completely honest —whether to protect others or to protect themselves—both now and in the past.

Front Desk – Kelly Yang

Based on Yang’s own childhood, Front Desk tells the story of Mia Tang, a 10-year-old whose parents have secured a job running a motel for the horrible, Mr. Yao. Mia and her family are immigrants figuring out how to survive in an America where the struggle is much greater than they could have ever imagined. There are many heavy themes here—abuse, extortion, homelessness, racism, bias—but Yang illuminates the harsh realities immigrants face, while somehow maintaining the hopeful, positive tone befitting Mia’s buoyant character. There are obviously many opportunities for Being the Change conversations in Front Desk, but one of the more poignant ties for me is Mia’s struggle to not let her own mother’s bias define her.

I hope every middle-grade teacher will have a chance to read Kelly Yang’s Front Desk this summer!


The First Rule of Punk – Celia Pérez

This one was actually released last summer and won a 2017 Pura Belpré Honor. I added it to my list because I loved it so much and identity was the central theme. María Luisa O’Neill-Morales, a.k.a. Malú, has a tough time when her “SuperMexican” mom takes a professor job in Chicago and Malú has to leave her ultra-cool record-store-owning dad behind in Florida. Malú, as the new kid at her middle school, is harassed by the queen bee for not being Mexican enough (a “coconut”) and at home is admonished to be a proper Mexican señorita by her mom. Malú’s goal? Perfecting her punk identity. Throughout Malú struggles against societal expectations in an attempt to fulfill what her dad says is the first rule of punk: Be Yourself.


Sticks and Stones – Abby Cooper

Published in the summer of 2016, this is a new-to-me book that jumped out at me, thanks to my new Being the Change lens. I haven’t read Sticks and Stones yet, but listen to how promising it sounds:

“Sticks & Stones by Abby Cooper is a feel-good middle-grade debut with just a dash of magic…

Ever since she was a baby, the words people use to describe Elyse have instantly appeared on her arms and legs. At first, it was just “cute” and “adorable,” but as she’s gotten older and kids have gotten meaner, words like “loser” and “pathetic” appear, and those words bubble up and itch. And then there are words like “interesting,” which she’s not really sure how to feel about.

Now, at age twelve, she’s starting middle school, and just when her friends who used to accept and protect her are drifting away, she receives an anonymous note saying “I know who you are, and I know what you’re dealing with. I want to help.” As Elyse works to solve the mystery of who is sending her these notes, she also finds new ways to accept who she is and to become her best self.”

– Amazon

Graphic Novels


Positively Izzy and Invisible Emmie – Terri Libenson

Also set in middle school, these two graphic novels capture the pain and frustration inherent in not only figuring out your own identity, but in convincing others to accept you for who you say you are. Invisible Emmie was a touchstone book for several of my 6th-grade girls this year, who found in it a much-needed mirror. I hope both Izzy and Emmie get a chance to create Identity Statements in the new school year!


The Cardboard Kingdom – Chad Sell

Check out the link for Betsy Bird’s review on Goodreads; it hooked me!

Promising New Releases That I’ve Pre-ordered 


What Can a Citizen Do? – Dave Eggers

“Empowering and timeless, What Can a Citizen Do? is the latest collaboration from the acclaimed duo behind the bestselling Her Right Foot: Dave Eggers and Shawn Harris. This is a book for today’s youth about what it means to be a citizen.

Across the course of several seemingly unrelated but ultimately connected actions by different children, we watch how kids turn a lonely island into a community—and watch a journey from what the world should be to what the world could be.

This is a book about what citizenship—good citizenship—means to you, and to us all.”

– Goodreads


Harbor Me – Jacqueline Woodson

“Jacqueline Woodson’s first middle-grade novel since National Book Award winner Brown Girl Dreaming celebrates the healing that can occur when a group of students shares their stories.

It all starts when six kids have to meet for a weekly chat—by themselves, with no adults to listen in. There, in the room they soon dub the ARTT Room (short for “A Room to Talk”), they discover it’s safe to talk about what’s bothering them—everything from Esteban’s father’s deportation and Haley’s father’s incarceration to Amari’s fears of racial profiling and Ashton’s adjustment to his changing family fortunes. When the six are together, they can express the feelings and fears they have to hide from the rest of the world. And together, they can grow braver and more ready for the rest of their lives.”

– Goodreads


The Day You Begin – Jacqueline Woodson

“National Book Award winner Jacqueline Woodson and two-time Pura Belpre Illustrator Award winner Rafael Lopez have teamed up to create a poignant, yet heartening book about finding the courage to connect, even when you feel scared and alone.

There will be times when you walk into a room

and no one there is quite like you.

There are many reasons to feel different. Maybe it’s how you look or talk, or where you’re from; maybe it’s what you eat, or something just as random. It’s not easy to take those first steps into a place where nobody really knows you yet, but somehow you do it.

Jacqueline Woodson’s lyrical text and Rafael Lopez’s dazzling art reminds us that we all feel like outsiders sometimes-and how brave it is that we go forth anyway. And that sometimes, when we reach out and begin to share our stories, others will be happy to meet us halfway.”

– Goodreads

What new books have you read this summer that made you think of Being the Change? Add them in the comments, so we can all add them to our to-read lists!

Being the Change #cyberPD 2018 Week One

This summer I’m reading Being the Change: Lessons and Strategies to Teach Social Comprehension by Sara K. Ahmed with the #CyberPD community on Google+. Many thanks to @CathyMere and Michelle Nero at @litlearningzone for facilitating this conversation!

This week we’re discussing “A Letter to Readers” in the foreword, the introduction, and chapters one and two. As an added bonus, in this episode of The Heinemann Podcast, Sara Ahmed tells the “A Letter to Readers” story, and here is a great follow-up conversation that provides an overview of the book. If you think you might be interested in joining us, these podcasts would be a great place to start.

As the new school year approaches, it is with expectant curiosity that I think about entering into our most important and tone-setting conversations with a new teaching partner by my side in Sara Ahmed. Despite all of my best intentions, in the past I’ve often felt like I was stumbling through critical conversations, the very conversations that mean the most out in the world, but with Sara’s encouragement, I’m excited at the thought of how those conversations can grow and evolve this year. I know I’m not alone in my belief that, as a society, our dialogue about the most important topics desperately needs to be different. Events of the world weigh heavily on my heart. It’s more important than ever that we find a way to welcome the stranger and celebrate the richness born of our diversity.

Sara writes, “If we can commit to approaching this work as the lead learner, teaching with curiosity and modeling vulnerability rather than rigid certainty, we can build habitats of trust where kids (and adults) participate in a learning discussion, and where expression, identity, and social literacy matter.”

To begin, Sara offers guiding principles that center our work:

  • Do the Work Yourself First–and Often
  • Keep the Focus on the Kids, Not on You
  • Consider How You See Your Kids
  • Be OK with Silence and Discomfort (aka, Don’t “Save” Every Moment)
  • Decenter Your Normal

“We need to pay attention to the language we use and how it can position people, customs, food, or traditions, outside of what we view to be normal…We don’t have license to certify normal. That is a basic tenant in the work of social comprehension. While diversity is the word of the day, when we decenter the dominant, normative narratives in society we make way for not only diversity, but also inclusion.

  • Enter with Humility
  • Remember That Progress Takes Time, Effort, and Heart Work

5BD11E19-BA82-46C7-A83E-71BEEF0007EE.pngChapter one is titled Exploring Our Identities. In itSara encourages us: “We can help students shine a light on who they are: their hopes and dreams, talents, family histories, how they identify culturally, the languages they speak, how they learn best, the story of their names, what they can teach us.”

When students can appreciate their own identities, and come to understand the identities of their classmates and teacher, it is more likely that they will find it within themselves to be fascinated and curious, to celebrate the identities they encounter in the world.

I’m eager to do this work with my students. This year we explored our individual “Learner Profiles” throughout the year, looking at various facets of their preferences like the introversion/extroversion continuum, auditory/visual/kinesthetic preferences, expressiveness, assertiveness, flexibility, and a host of other strengths-based attributes. With Sara’s help, I look forward to helping students construct a conception of their emerging identities beyond simply how they prefer to learn, to a more well-rounded picture that celebrates the whole child.

In chapter two, Listening With Love, Sara offers some concrete suggestions for mentoring students in active listening and for establishing a classroom culture to support quality listening. For me, this chapter brought to mind the experiences I’ve had over the years with Cognitive Coaching. I was reminded of how validating it is to be deeply listened to in a coaching conversation. But more than validating, it reminded me of how welcoming body language, skilled paraphrasing, pausing, and generative questions work to draw out my own thinking. I am committed to getting to a place where my students support one another by listening more deeply. I am comforted thinking of how students who have been closely listened to, how students who know how to listen to others with an open heart, will change the world.

Lest I drift too far into the unbounded optimism of summer, I’ll end with this sentence from Being the Change: “We will also carry the weight of the moments when we are not able to do all that we’d hoped.” This work is hard. No matter what I’m able to put in place, I’ve never been able to do all that I’d hoped. My hopes are so high. Yet, even when the conversations are difficult, awkward, and stilted, I think we need to remind ourselves that we are having the conversations. All of us. And by having the conversations, together we are Being the Change.

It’s All About the Books: A Slice of Life

Last week I got to spend time with three brilliant teachers: Clare, Tammy, and Carol. Back in March, Carol and I were fortunate enough to win the new slicer prize: a copy each of It’s All About the Books: How to Create Bookrooms and Classroom Libraries That Inspire Readers and an online video chat with Clare and Tammy.

Fast forward to June, Carol and I prepared ahead of time by devouring It’s All About the Books and sending our questions to Tammy and Clare–many more than could reasonably be addressed within an hour. During our video chat, Clare and Tammy provided us with dozens of thoughtful, individualized ideas for our next steps. And that was after they’d already facilitated PD all day. What a lovely gift!

CR libraryThey gave us so much to think about, about the uses and limits of levels, managing complex change, and organizing classroom libraries to inspire readers. The conversation left me itching to re-organize my classroom library and create new book tubs. But I need to wait to get back into my school for that, which is fortunate since waiting will make it easier for me to loop kids into the reorganization, giving them more ownership. Since working in the classroom library has to wait, I’m focusing on what Tammy shared during our video chat about using digital resources to enhance instruction and engagement.

True confessions: I don’t love to read online and I know for a fact that I don’t read as carefully when reading digital text as I do when reading physical books. At the same time, I don’t think anyone can deny the likelihood that our students will be reading online even more in the future than they do currently. Since I’m skeptical of reading online to begin with, even though I realize digital reading is a skill I need to teach, it’s intimidating to think about providing the skills students need to be successful online readers. Fortunately, It’s All About the Books, has an entire chapter dedicated to digital resources. It’s chock-full of timely suggestions for thoughtfully teaching the reading of digital text, resources for adding more digital text, and tips for organizing online resources into “digital bins.”

During our video chat, Tammy suggested that those of us who prefer paper books are perfectly situated to model our process of reading digital text, thinking aloud as we make our way through an article. Because we are novices, it’s easier for us to access beginner’s mind. How will we take notes? When do we realize we need to reread? When do we click on hyperlinks and how do we then find our way back into the text after clicking on the link? Tammy shared that research has shown that most of us tend to read in a capital “E’ pattern when online. We read the first lines, skim to the middle to read a few more lines, and then read the end. That sounds about right to me. My next step is to analyze my personal digital reading process with It’s All About the Books at my elbow, reflecting on strategies I can model for kids for to avoid E pattern reading and closely read digital text.

Another question I brought to our conversation was how to provide my students greater access to nonfiction, without sending home my beloved collection of hardback picture books. While I’m willing to send home novels because they fit inside a gallon-sized Ziploc, which provides a degree of protection from rain, rogue snacks, and sweaty water bottles, hardcover picture-book sized books typically don’t fit. Until Clare suggested it, I hadn’t thought of pointing my students toward Overdrive for at-home reading of those great, new nonfiction titles. While I’m all about the books, I too often forget completely about the digital resources we already have available to us.

After we disconnected our video chat, Carol and I talked books, the traumas of middle school, book club books, birds, The Book Love Foundation, middle-grade books, Carol’s upcoming trip to learn from Penny, Kelly, and Tom; and Tom’s books. I can’t imagine a better way to spend a summer afternoon!

Thanks again to Clare and Tammy for offering this wonderful prize and for helping us think more about classroom libraries, bookrooms, and how to inspire readers! Thanks also for donating all royalties generated by It’s All About the Books: How to Create Bookrooms and Classroom Libraries That Inspire Readers to The Book Love Foundation, a nonprofit organization that funds classroom libraries through an annual competitive grant. I’m both stunned and touched by your generosity.

Independent Reading: Nurturing Identity, Agency, & Culture, part 3

This is the third part of a three-part series in which I’m exploring the importance of Independent Reading in a balanced literacy workshop. In my last blog post I wrote about the role agency, or the capacity a student has to make choices, plays in successful Independent Reading. For this post, I’ll focus on the role classroom climate and culture play in making Independent Reading a success.

Successful Independent Reading time is largely dependent on the reading CULTURE of the classroom, the reading community we’ve created. In The Reading Zone, Nancie Atwell writes, “A child sitting in a quiet room with a good book isn’t a flashy or marketable teaching method. It just happens to be the only way anyone became a reader.” So how do I nurture a culture that values reading and maximizes opportunities to get my students “sitting in a quiet room with a good book”?

  • Establish a predictable structure and routine. My goal is that, in my classroom, every day there is a #classroombookaday picture book. Every day there is a reading lesson, often embedded in the #classroombookaday or the read aloud novel. Every day there is sacred time for Independent Reading. No matter what else gets bumped, we read. Every. Single. Day. When students know they can depend on time to read every day, they plan for it and settle in quickly to read.
  • Set expectations for what Independent Reading looks and sounds like:
    • Readers need to talk to other readers. There are lots of important reasons to talk during Independent Reading. As a reader, I need to share when I come to an exciting part. I need to thank a friend for recommending a great book. I need to ask a friend, “What should I read next?” I need to process heartbreak or rehearse a book talk. I need to giggle together with a friend over a funny part. Yes, it’s sometimes difficult to tell whether this is productive talk. No, it’s not okay for my talk to disrupt other readers. That’s why I need to create a classroom culture that privileges reading. When we all value reading, we will hold one another accountable for holding that time sacred.
    • Readers can get comfortable, but generally, settle and stay in one spot for the duration.
    • Readers sit near friends unless those friends interfere with reading. This is another important CHOICE we need to support students in taking responsibility for.
    • Students return books to the library when they’re on the way somewhere else—to recess, lunch, or on the way home. If they need to go to the library during Independent Reading, it’s because they already have at least one specific title in mind that they’re prepared to check-out, so they can quickly get back to reading.
  • img_1758.jpgModel and explicitly teach the habits of lifelong reading. Readers read daily, both in school and out of school. Avid readers have a book with them at all times so they can squeeze in extra reading “on the edges.” Readers regularly finish books and are ready to talk during a conference about the books they’re reading.
  • Model and then gradually release Book Talks. As a classroom of avid readers, we need the opportunity to share our excitement about great titles with other passionate readers. Daily book talks open up that opportunity and create “book buzz” at the same time.
  • Seek engagement with the wider literary world. We seek out opportunities to interact with readers worldwide whether that is through author visits, author interactions on Twitter, blogging our original book reviews, serving as book ambassadors to other classrooms, or participating in events like the Sibert Smackdown and March Book Madness, which connect us with other classrooms through our shared love of reading.
  • Be the Lead Reader. Share your authentic passion. Talk about book events. Get excited for new releases from favorite authors. The Lead Reader is the ambassador for what Frank Smith once called “The Literacy Club,” which includes all of the readers and authors in a student’s life. It is incumbent on the Lead Reader to make sure this is a club other readers want to join.
  • Don’t ask kids to do reading busy work. During workshop, everything goes through the filter of: Does the Lead Reader choose to do this in her authentic reading life? As the Lead Reader, I don’t create book projects. I do sometimes write to authors on Instagram, Twitter, and via snail mail. I don’t answer comprehension questions. I do write book reviews. I don’t write summaries. I do talk about some of my books with a book club or write essays (journeys of thought) about compelling books. But most importantly, I read.
  • Help students become metacognitive. Readers think about their thinking. Some of the most critical reading strategies we can teach readers require that they think about their own thinking. By modeling this habit, and thinking aloud about our metacognitive processes, we make the abstract visible.
  • Teach readers how to engage and re-engage when attention lags. Engagement is a choice. By teaching students the paths to re-engagement we help students embrace their responsibility in creating meaning in a transactional process with the author of a text.

Often when I read about Independent Reading, the stated goal is something like this: time for students to practice strategies shared during reading instruction. Although in a general sense, I have no argument with that, it’s incomplete. As Kate DiCamillo eloquently stated, “ Reading should not be presented to children as a chore or a duty. It should be offered to them as a precious gift.” Independent Reading encompasses so much more than simply practicing strategies as presented. Independent Reading is an opportunity for readers to develop their reading identity, to exercise the agency inherent in owning that identity, and to immerse themselves in the rich reading culture that we have so thoughtfully constructed. 


Independent Reading: Nurturing Identity, Agency, & Culture, part 2

This is the second part of a three-part series in which I’m exploring the importance of Independent Reading in a balanced literacy workshop.

In my last blog post, I wrote about the role reader identities play in successful Independent Reading in my classroom. For this blog, I’ll focus on agency, or the capacity a student has to make choices in Independent Reading.

Learners with strong identities as readers feel empowered and successful in making their own choices. They have agency. For readers who are developing identity, who don’t realize or take advantage of the choices available to them, I am supporting them in claiming their agency. One important next step for me in this arena is to integrate what I’ve learned this summer from Ellin Keene’s book Engaging Children: Igniting a Drive for Deeper Learning. In Engaging Children, Ellin makes the convincing argument that engagement is in the hands of the learner. Engagement is a choice learners make. As a teacher, my role is to teach students what engagement is and the specific strategies they can use to engage or re-engage when interest lags.

Students with developing learner identities are often passive during critical learning opportunities. They have an external locus of control and may not have experienced the satisfaction of deep engagement. During Independent Reading, they wait for a book or a teacher to inspire them to read. Teaching these students strategies for engagement is a step toward helping them claim their agency, teaching them that the responsibility for engagement is always in their hands.

If my goal is to create readers who choose to read, those readers need to know how to make good use of their autonomy. Like with so many other things, getting good at making choices comes with practice. So, during Independent Reading students have CHOICE in what they’re reading. Independent, fluent readers choose freely from the classroom and school libraries. Focusing on the classroom library, how does providing readers choice in a rich classroom library support us in developing successful independent readers? Here’s what I’ve observed:

  • All readers read text at a variety of levels. Sometimes readers choose text that I may think is too easy. Honoring student agency means that before intervening, I will take the time to observe and to listen. Maybe the student is having a hard day, and they need a comfort read. Maybe they want to re-read a familiar text to study it as a writer. Maybe they want to experience its beautiful language again. These are all valid reasons for choosing an “easy” read. Of course, if a student is choosing easy text most of the time, it’s time for us to revisit goals because I know from Ellin Keene that engaged learners are seeking intellectual urgency, they want to challenge their thinking.
  • Sometimes readers choose books that I may think are too hard. Again, if I’m building student agency, before intervening my job is to observe and listen. Although the text may be above their assessed level, perhaps the reader has background knowledge that makes the text accessible? Maybe the student is hungry for a challenge? Maybe the reader will discover this text isn’t a good fit right now and put it back? Part of choice is the opportunity it presents students to engage in productive struggle and figure things out for themselves. Occasionally I may need to help a student make a different choice, but disenfranchising a reader is a difficult decision that should always be handled with care. And it’s a decision I’ll make only after I’ve first established a trusting relationship with the reader.
  • “There is wide and documented research supporting the need for student-selected reading: “Students read more, understand more, and are more likely to continue reading when they have the opportunity to choose what they read. In a 2004 meta-analysis, Guthrie and Humenick found that the two most powerful instructional design factors for improving reading motivation and comprehension were (1) student access to many books and (2) personal choice of what to read“ (Allington and Gabriel 2012 in Mulligan and Landrigan 2017).

Readers also need the flexibility to choose what they’re thinking about while reading. In order to develop as independent readers, they need opportunities to independently select strategies in order to problem solve real issues they encounter while reading.

image-1It is likely that the strategy I taught (during read aloud, shared reading, or guided reading) won’t match what every reader needs that day during Independent Reading. So in the sharing session at the end of workshop instead of asking “How did you use X strategy today during Independent Reading?” Maybe instead my question could be, “Tell us about a strategy you used during Independent Reading today and how that helped you as a reader.”

Shifting away from a role where I, as the teacher, “give” learners choices, I would like to move to a place where we all–students, parents, and I–recognize that the most critical choices–to engage, to read, to learn–always have and always will belong to the learner. And my role is to guide students in making good use of those choices. Helping students to claim their agency is particularly important during Independent Reading.