Sunday, October 13, 2013

I'm Ambivalent About Columbus Day

When I was twenty years old, I learned the truth about Columbus.  I was living in the Dominican Republic at the time.  I was living among the Dominicans, not as a missionary, but as a student.  A learner.  

I attended school.  I rode the guaguas.  I walked through the Colonial Zone and watched the cruise ships dock and explode with foreigners looking for trinkets.  I watched the beaches become roped off so the tourists could enjoy the waves by themselves.

I experienced what it was like to look different than an entire population of people.  I experienced being singled out because of my skin color or hair texture.  I felt the discomfort.  But yet, I loved the people, the culture, the food, the sweltering hot weather.

It was during my time there that I learned about the Taino native people.  I learned that the island was once called Hispaniola, and that an entire race of natives was annihilated by Columbus.  And, to this day, not one full-blooded Taino lives due to disease, murder, and mistreatment by the Spanish conquerers.

And then, just recently, I read this post about Columbus Day on The Oatmeal: 

I know it's my duty to teach my students about the real history of Columbus and what happened so long ago.  

So why do I feel ambivalent every year?  Because I feel like I might be committing heresy against the many history textbooks that still gloss over the history?  Because I don't want to anger my students' parents?  There is such a fine line between teaching the truth to eight year olds and completely traumatizing them.

This year we do not have school on Columbus Day due to Fall Break.  But I still plan to use Jane Yolen's wonderful book Encounter, which describes the events of the Spanish conquerers from the perspective of a Taino boy.

When I was living in Santo Domingo, the running water and electricity were often turned off in sections around the city.  Imagine my surprise when I learned of a museum in town called the Columbus Lighthouse.  It is shaped like the cross and at night, using thousands of watts of light, projects the image of the cross onto the sky.  (Rumor has it that it can be seen from neighboring Puerto Rico.)  It was an interesting feeling to be sweltering in my room at night, with no access to A/C or fans, but to see the lighted cross in the sky in honor of Columbus.

I will share some of what I know with my students.  And I will feel comfortable not knowing the answers to all of their questions.  And I will be satisfied knowing that they will not be twenty years old when they finally learn the truth.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Two Tweets that Changed Everything

In honor of Connected Educator Month...

8 year old Keagan loves The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt.  He kept the book at his desk for days until finally, just recently, he told me about a book he wrote.

"I was inspired by Drew Daywalt," he announced.  "I wrote a book just like the Crayons book.  Wanna see?"

Of course I did.  The book is called "Highlighters," and it was organized in letter-format, just as Crayons is.  The highlighters in his book are hilarious and obnoxious.

Later that night, I realized that I am connected to Drew Daywalt on Twitter.  I reached out and told him about Keagan's book, hoping for a response.

Here is the communication that followed:

And here was his response:

The next day, I shared these two tweets with our class.  

Here were some of their responses:


(And keep in mind, this isn't the first time we've communicated with an author.)

Keagan was highly impacted by this.  He walked around for days holding both his book and Daywalt's book, telling anyone who would listen that he was inspired by an author, and that the author responded to his idea for a book.  

So validating.

My students were previously strong writers.  However, their writing identities and stamina for writing are stronger since using Twitter to connect with authors from around the globe.


Connecting on Twitter helps my students see authors as real people, instead of magical beings who have talents beyond what children can possess.  For example:

  • Drew Daywalt tweets about how he sits at hotels and thinks and writes.  (We sit and think and write!)
  • Mo Willems tweets doodles he makes while sitting at a restaurant for dinner.  (Hey, some of us doodle all the time!)
  • Jon Klassen shares pictures on Instagram of animals and landscapes and parts of his artwork.  (Some of us love taking pictures of and drawing animals!)
  • Linda Urban tweets about having to cut hundreds of words from her draft.  (Hey, we are always making revisions to our writing too!)
These writers feel closer to us because of Twitter.  More accessible.  And if real people can write and revise and publish, then surely, we third graders can too! 

Alas, I am not a perfect connected educator.  I know I don't follow as many people on Twitter as I should.  I don't participate in as many chats as I should. There are always so many more ways for me to be connected.  I'm working on it!  (And yes, I may get a bit starstruck when authors tweet us back, but that's beside the point.)  

In the end, I wonder if it's my students who eventually benefit as much, if not more, than I do.  

So thanks, Twitter.  And thanks, Mr. Daywalt.  

Friday, September 27, 2013

Intentional Words and Vampires

My day is packed full of choices.

I choose which shoes to wear each day.  I choose which books to read aloud to my third grade students.  I choose to pick out the red and purple Skittles from the bag. (True story.)

But what about my word choices?

In the past few years, I became powerfully aware of the words I used every day.  Especially with children.  I found that I was self-monitoring my language to decide if my words were helping or hurting?  Developing agency in children?  Or simply solving problems for them?

Peter Johnston's book Choice Words also had a powerful impact on my intentional language.  If you have not read this book, I highly, highly, highly recommend it.

A running list began in my head.  These are some of the words that I intentionally tell myself to choose every day.

1. "This is our classroom, not mine."  

How might I expect my students to feel a strong sense of community if the class only belongs to the teacher?  This one little pronoun makes a big difference.

2. "Everything you do is a choice.  Unless I physically pick you up or try to hurt you (which I will never do), you have to choose to make the most helpful choice.  I will not make you do anything."  

I love this statement.  I say it so much that my students finish the sentence for me.  It makes a lot more sense to me than yelling over students to stop ________ (insert unwanted behavior here).

If most everything we do is a choice, how empowered children must feel to know they can affect change in their environments!  That they have the power to choose their actions!  No longer can they say, "But I couldn't help it!  He was making me laugh!"  Nope, we choose to laugh.  We have the power to control our words, our bodies, and how we respond to each other.  We should be maximizing children's feelings of agency by helping them see the variety of daily choices they have.

3. "I understand that you are having challenges getting along.  I will stand here next to you while you talk to each other about how to solve this."

How often am I solving problems for my students?  With 25 bodies in the room, it is so much easier to just say, "Stop bothering her."  But what a fabulous opportunity for me to support a problem solving conversation.

4. "You are always good.  Your choices may not be, but you are always good."  See here for more on this favorite line:

5. "Just because ________ says it, doesn't mean it's true for you.  Or for the world."

Not long ago, I had a student who was trying to convince his entire lunch table that he was a vampire.  Despite the fact that I found this to be absolutely hilarious, his peers were not amused.  They spent day after day arguing with him about his identity.  

"How are you in the light then?"
"Why did you pack a sandwich then?"
"Why aren't your eyes red?"

As I laughed, I listened from a distance and eventually intervened one day as the conversations were becoming heated.  One of the things I talked to them about was how just because someone says the words, it doesn't make them true.  

Children have a sweet but inaccurate understanding of the power and validity of words, I think.  Someone says they have the best shoes, it must be true.  Someone calls you stupid, it's true.  Someone calls you ugly, it must be true.  (Wait, may even adults sometimes buy into this power of words too?)

Just because words are said and given life, doesn't make them accurate.  Am I helping students to think through these bold statements and to decide what to believe for themselves?  Are they becoming critical thinkers who are careful about which words they believe because no authority is truly above error?

And how might I continue to support my students better through the power of my intentional language?

P.S. And yes, the vampire finally (begrudgingly) admitted to being human. 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Writing Fiction: Part 2 (What I Will Do and Won't Do Again)

We are four weeks into writing fiction.  And, we are about finished.  Or, as finished as any writer can be.

What have I learned this time around?  Well, a lot.

You can read about some beginning thoughts here:

I did my best to at least try to implement some of the learning I did with Mr. Lester Laminack this past summer.  (You can learn more about Mr. Laminack here at

We studied the elements of plot.  We "told the stories across our fingers" until the kids could do it practically in their sleep.  They understood plot in their reading, which soon carried over into their writing.  They had the vision for their fictional writing before they ever put a pencil to paper.  Or fingers to the keys.

We used the "6 Scenes" strategy to plan our writing.  We started with the Big Event/Climax (Scene 3), and then wrote outward from there.

Brooklyn is famous for her stories about Scary Squirrel and Stinky Skunk.  She has authored multiple sequels describing their adventures.

Did it work for all kids?  Probably not.  

When it came to actually writing (either digitally or with a pencil), some kids did run out of steam.  It's challenging for some to expand on a scene.

Even students who wrote a lot found themselves being careful that they referred back to their original "scene thinking."  

This may have inihibited some students.  Writers deviate from their original thinking often, right?  
Maybe some of my students should have just started their texts from the very beginning without a planning support in place?  I think it depends on the child.  In the future, I will probably offer the option and see what happens.

The most important thought I take away from this unit was the importance of teacher modeling.  I modeled the writing process in at least three different fictional stories from beginning thinking to ending.  I revised and edited and drafted and revised and edited, all in front of my students.  If the mentor text is the expert, then isn't it my job to be the bridge for my students?  If I expect them to write, I must write too.

I used student writing as models, even more than mentor texts this time around.  It was remarkable.  I had previously reluctant student writers who were begging me DAILY to share their writing.  

And finally, remember how students were having a difficult time expanding on their original, simple planning?  We made a t-chart and used student examples, side-by-side, to have a visual of what this thinking actually looks like and sounds like.

This is Cooper's example from his story about two dinosaurs who had some major conflict.

I cannot write enough about how much this scaffolding helped my students.  We displayed multiple examples, including some from my own writing.

As we celebrate our fictional stories next week, I will be remembering that things didn't go perfectly.  The act of writing is a messy process...

but so is the teaching of it!  

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Genius Hour: What Are Your Passions?

If you do the math, you will find that I have been with most of my current third grade students for around 215 days.

(I had the excellent fortune of looping up to third grade with my students this year.)

You would think that I would know them extremely well, and I do.  I know their families, I know about their siblings. I know their strengths and weaknesses, where they go on vacations, which genres they love to read, what they bring for lunch every day.

But do I really know what they are PASSIONATE about in their lives?  I mean, outside of school?

For some of them I do, surely.  It's easy to tell what my vocal and extroverted students cannot stop talking about.  Topics like UFO's, Pokemon, Minecraft, horses, football, and  WWII come up constantly.

I asked myself though, what about the students who are the quiet thinkers?  Or the students who politely comply but whose minds are in another place?

In the last few months, I learned about a concept called Genius Hour.  You can read and watch more about the history behind it here:  We will take one hour, every week, to explore our passions.

We started this past week.

We watched Caine's Arcade to get us started.  My students were enthralled.  A boy, their age, with a passion for arcades, could go viral?

Then we discussed passsions.  We discussed how the constraints of school and home can sometimes keep us from exploring what we truly love.  What are those things we would love to do/test/change/make/learn about if we had no fear?

Every student received sticky notes to begin bravely brainstorming these passions of the heart.

I almost cried.  

I learned things that I never knew about some of my students.  I had no idea that one child always wanted to learn to play the guitar.  I didn't know that another student wants to know how houses are built.

We brainstormed for twenty minutes and the sticky notes full of ideas flooded our wondering charts in a way I never expected.

There will be rules for Genius Hour.  One is that the passions we explore have to be things that are not easily "Google-able." 


Imagine exploring a topic that cannot be easily answered with a quick Google search?  This is definitely going to take some time and thought.

I cannot wait to see where this journey is going to take us.

Thank you so much to Joy Kirr for unknowingly taking me under her Genius Hour wing.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Legos Are Like Grammar

Not long ago in my teaching career, I came to a realization.

Every single book in my classroom library could be used to teach some kind of grammar skill.

Shocking, yes? (No.  I shake my head at myself.)

 I was coming off of five years as a Literacy Coach, and there were often many conversations about lists of books.  

"Which books are good to teach complete sentences?"
"Which books would be good to teach pronouns?"
"Are there lists of books that would be good to teach declarative sentences?"

I would always giggle a little bit.  

See, the problem is, every single book in the world is full of declarative sentences.

Almost every book would be great for supporting a discussion about subjects and predicates, and how they work together in our language.  

After reading Janet Angelillo's book Grammar Study, I realized that I needed to teach sentence patterns as fun, building opportunities.  In fact, Angelillo even likens grammar study to playing with Legos:

"Do we teach students that sentence are as much fun to build - and play around with - as Lego castles?  You build them, stand back to check them out and break them up and try them another way and so on." (p. 53)

When I returned to the classroom to teach again, I decided that I was going to teach grammar a different way.  I decided that I was going to start from authentic, much-loved texts, and move outward toward the inauthentic test-like question.

For example, we recently finished learning about types of sentences in our third grade class.  We studied them first in texts that we loved and knew well.  This way, the children were not focusing on the plot and content of the text, but on the language.

Later, they looked for these types of sentences in their own writing.  How amazed they were to find that these sentences were everywhere, and they had used them frequently!

By the end of the study, they were able to find and label these types of sentences in an inauthentic, test-like situation, with sentences pulled out of context.

Why did this work for us?

Because our grammar study wasn't tedious.  We didn't drown ourselves in declarative sentences worksheets.  We pulled sentences out of books from authors we absolutely adore, and played around with them.  What would happen if this sentence became interrogative?  What would it sound like?  How would it change the way it was read?  Why does this sentence work so well?

Angelillo writes, "Better to display sentences from books and ask them to discuss why each sentence works.  Thus we challenge students and make grammar part of our intellectual conversations, not a matter of 'I'm right and you're wrong' or some meaningless guessing game" (p. 55).

Grammar can be like playing with Legos.  And almost every well-loved book I own can support a study in some way.  

I suppose the moral of my story is, lists of books for teaching skills are fine.  But looking in my own classroom library for loved books was much more effective than using a text with which my students were not familiar.

So in the meantime, we will just keep building our word castles, checking them out, breaking them apart, and putting them back together.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

You're Always Good

Every school year, I hear the same question from students.  

"Was I good today?"

And every year, I give the same answer.  Over.  And over.  And over again.

"You are always good.  Your choices may not always be good.  But you are always a good person."

What is it about our world that constantly connects kids' behaviors to their identities as people?  You "get in trouble at school", so you are bad.  You make a mistake = bad person.

So every year, it takes months for students to understand that "Was I good today?" is not an acceptable question in our classroom.

Here's a typical scenario that happens with my students now that I have looped with them to 3rd grade.

Student: "Was I good today?"
Me: (I give them a *look*.)
Student: (practically rolling eyes) "Ok, I mean, were my choices good today?"
Me: "What do you think?"

I smile at these conversations.  Not only because they amuse me, but because my heart feels happy to know these kids are starting to understand that their behaviors don't change their identities as good kids.

Do they understand the differences between guilt and shame yet?  Not yet.
Do they understand how this distinction can impact our feelings of self-worth?  Probably not.

It's such a small, but important distinction.  You're always good!  Just work on those choices.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Writing Fiction: Part 1

"Good books don't give up all their secrets at once." - Stephen King

Recently, we embarked on a fiction unit of study in Writer's Workshop.  It's been a long time since I've actually taught the elements of plot, so I wanted to be sure that students were clear about the the parts through reading first.

Lester Laminack taught me a great trick this past summer: "Tell The Story Across your Fingers."  Every time we would read a fictional text, we would practice verbalizing each part of plot across each 5 of our fingers:

1. Beginning
2. Rising Action
3. Climax/Big Event
4. Falling Action
5. Resolution

We did this so much in our immersion in reading, that when it was time to discuss our ideas for writing, students had a solid understanding of these parts of plot.  

It was important to me that each student could verbalize the five parts of their story plots, and had a "vision" for their fictional texts, before they started writing.

I think sometimes we get carried away with graphic organizers, and we can forget to have students verbalize and talk through their ideas for writing.  They start with graphic organizers and then have little vision for their entire texts.

After their vision was created, we plotted out our texts using a "6 Scenes" idea.  Each scene was numbered, and the third scene had a star in it.  This scene would be the Big Event/Climax.  

Students planned their scenes starting with the third scene, the Big Event.  Then, they moved backward and planned scenes two and one.  The hope here is that if students sketch out their Big Event in the middle of the plot, then they will not be starting their writing with the Big Event.  (As children often do.)

The 6 Scenes idea will hopefully encourage children to develop plot successfully without giving too much away at the beginning.  Just as Stephen King suggests that good books do!

(I also wouldn't let them finish any of these parts in one day.  Children need to know that writers do not finish their writing in one day.  Neither do we!)

Next week we will begin expanding on our scenes into drafts.  Happy Writing!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Please, Just Read the Book

"Please.  Just read the book."

Many years ago, I was sitting in a cafeteria of an elementary school in July.  I was attending a 3 day summer training with Frank Serafini.  (You can find Mr. Serafini's work at  As he was discussing his nonfiction books for children, he said something I will remember always.

"Please.  Just read the book." 

 Please, he implored, don't force the comprehension strategies on the students.  He asked that we please not make the kids stop and predict and ask questions and visualize and make inferences in the beginning.  "Just read it to them.  Just enjoy it," he said.

Yes.  Thank you.  After years and years and years of hearing that we should be finding books for the sole purpose of only teaching strategies and skills, this was like a breath of fresh air.  

I was a literacy coach at the time, and wasn't able to apply this philosophy in my own classroom.  Yet.  The strategies had just become popular years before.  You know, those comprehension strategies that are so popular:

Good readers:
Ask Questions
Make Inferences
And so on

And so, a few years later, I returned to the classroom.  Elated to be there.

We approached the books we loved without stopping to make a prediction teaching chart on the first read.  We didn't use every book for visualizing and inferring.  

When we read books for the first time, we simply enjoyed them.  We listened to the dialogue.  We dicussed the beauty of the phrases that stood out to us.  We marveled at the art.  (We did not even take a picture walk!  Gasp!)  

When we read them for a second time, we had conversations about things like, the interior monologue of the characters.  We discussed how we can know what characters are thinking by the clues the author gives us. We marveled again at the lines of text that were impactful to us.

When we read Lemony Snicket's The Dark last year in second grade, we did not stop and predict and infer and visualize.  We did our second reading in the actual dark. (At their request, of course.)  We realized after the 3rd read that the Dark is actually just personified in this text.  We realized that Jon Klassen brilliantly placed certain objects in the art to help us predict that the drawers in the basement would be important.  

Would the students have come to those conclusions on their own had I stopped and made a predicting teaching chart on the first read?  Would the kids have realized on their own that the Dark was personified if I had stopped and made a teaching chart about it on read #2?


I still "teach" reading.  I still help students understand how keeping their brains active and monitoring their own comprehension is important.  They learn how to infer and synthesize and predict and monitor and clarify.


I love picking up books and knowing that they are so much more than for teaching a strategy or a skill.

I want my students to hear and to love the language of the texts.
I want my students to adore the art and understand its importance in meaning-making.
I want my students to connect their reading with their writing so they can truly write "under the influence" of other writers.

It is wonderful to hear my students talk about books and characters and writers.  They can use what they know about comprehension inside their love of books, instead of the other way around.

Because first, we really do just "read the book."

Saturday, August 17, 2013

5 Ways to Help Foster a Writing Identity

I would be lying if I said that Reading is my favorite subject.

I was recently told that I am a bibliophile, and yes, it is indeed true.  However...

I also love teaching Writing.  Reading and Writing are opposite sides of the same coin, so how could I not?

Looping from 2nd to 3rd grade this year has shown me the immense benefits of helping students create their writing identities.  We've accomplished this in some small ways:

1. When we talk about books we read in Reading, we also talk about how they are written in Writing.  We use the same books for different purposes in both Reader's and Writer's Workshops.  We read like writers and we read like readers.

We study stacks of books first before we write like those authors, or like that genre.  Good Writers Read First.

2. We learn about authors and we call them by their names.  We watch interviews with them.  We learn about their lives.  

Children often think that books are magically published in the heavens, and that writers get their ideas from the unicorns that frolic in their backyards.

Not entirely true.

Writers get their ideas from everywhere.  Every single day is a story in our class.

My students are asked to "put on their writers eyes" when they leave our room.  Ideas for books happen all around us!

3. I keep a writing notebook myself.  I know that teachers often see themselves as "readers."  But so few see themselves as "writers" too.  Showing students how I can make lists of ideas from my life is powerful for students to see.  Drafting writing and showing students how writing is actually a messy process is even more helpful.  Kids need to see that writing is not a "one and done" activity.  

4. The Writing Process is not sequential.

I admit that I am slightly sad when students enter my class and think that Revision is the step that happens after Drafting.  Augh!

Completely untrue.  Writers work through the different stages of the writing process in a recursive manner.  We go back and forth between the different steps of the process in a nonconsecutive way.

For example:
Many educators have a process like this posted in their rooms:
1. Brainstorming
2. Drafting
3. Revising
4. Editing
5. Publishing

But in reality, I think the process may look something like this:
1. Brainstorming
2. Drafting
3. Revising
4. Brainstorming
5. Editing
6. Drafting
7. Revising
8. Drafting
9. Revising
10. Brainstorming
11. Drafting

And so on.

We talk about this in third grade.  Students know that ideas for writing and the writing itself is not a pretty process wrapped up neatly with a bow.  

Recursive. Recursive.  Recursive.

5. Finally, one of the most important things my students have conveyed to me is their need to write in a book format.  

I've learned that students most easily write what they read.  And since many students easily identify with picture books, I made books available for students to create.

Even though we use writer's notebooks with lines, my students absolutely love to make books.  I staple 8 1/2 x 11 pages together in half and leave them in our Writing Center.  Kids may take a blank book any time.  

They write and write and write and illustrate and write.  We have series of books.  We have sequels.  We have fiction and nonfiction texts coming from our 3rd grade writers.

And the best part is that this is not at all directed by me.  This is above and beyond our Writer's Workshop minilessons.

This book was a collaboration of two authors and one illustrator.  They know that in the writing world, the author doesn't always talk to the illustrator before a book is published.
Students can sign up to share their authored work once/week in the Author's Chair.  We discuss their books and talk about where each author got their ideas.  We also ask the author, "Which ideas are you using from authors we have been studying?"  

We tweeted this cover to Marla Frazee and she responded!  

The first book to be shared during 2013-14 school year.  This writer's idea came from one of the Lunch Lady books by Krosoczka.

Then, these books go in our classroom library.

Do I sometimes have to talk to kids about being thoughtful with their books and not flying through 23 books in one day? Yes.  But this issue ends soon after we start sharing the "published" writing with our class.  Students begin to see what thoughtful, intentional book-making looks like.

Making books is inexpensive and has had a very powerful impact on the writing identities of my students.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Book Waterfalls

I am so thankful to have come upon Erica Beaton's blog, B10 Loves Books.  You can find it here

She suggests using Book Waterfalls to increase book love, and to also hold students accountable for what they are reading. Students will also informally notice each other's books, and can hold each other accountable if someone has been reading a book for weeks and weeks!

Here's what we did:

After independent reading, students brought their books into a circle.

We each took turns showing the cover of the book we read.  Today we said one sentence about what we thought the genre of the book might be, since we are studying different genres this week.

In the end, each student was held accountable for a text.  I could quickly tell if the student had a solid understanding of genre.  And also, each student was introduced to many different titles in a short amount of time!

Informal assessment at its best!

And finally:
Our favorite class picture so far.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Dreaded Reading Level

I'll admit it.

I don't make kids read only from reading level baskets.  Or lexile level sections.  Or whatever level they have been given. A F L H E K Y W 980 250 600?

(A quick side note: did you know that The Pelican Brief has a lower Lexile level than Charlotte's Web?)

Yikes.  The dreaded reading level.  Each child knows they have one, mostly because of the days their teacher (me) spends assessing them (weeks) and then recording them in our district's Core Data Spreadsheet.

I do not talk much about reading levels in our classroom.  I understand that many educators think differently about this issue, but I have discovered that students will read more widely, more often, and with more stamina, if they are not confined to a specific level or range.

How do we set this up?
  1. We start the year talking about what kinds of things readers read.  We make lists.  We notice the reading all around us.  I post the personal books I'm reading on our door.  We begin to establish our identities as readers.

2. We study authors and illustrators.  We learn about the lives of the writers and we call them by their names.  "Hey, I love that book by Marla (Frazee).  She uses the same kinds of illustrations to show movement as Oliver (Jeffers)!" 

We post pictures of our favorite authors in our room.  We watch interviews with them.  We tweet them and email them.

3. We discuss the differences between Real Reading and Fake Reading.  I model the behaviors of both kinds of reading.  And then, the kids practice both!  

Watching fake reading is hilarious.  Kids hold their books upside down, flip through pages, look around the room.  (However, this year, I had a number of kids who almost refused to do this because of their extreme interest in the text they were reading.  Not a bad problem to have.)

4. We keep track of all the class books we read on the wall and organize them by genre or author.  We refer to them often.  We also keep track of the books we read independently and set reading goals for ourselves.  (See The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller for more information.)

5. We practice building our stamina for reading.  We start small, and we build as the year progresses.

  6. We share the books we recommend with the class.  We share our books in small groups and with partners.  We book talk.  We will be using Weebly this year to blog about books.

7. Students are provided with a wide and varied classroom library.  They are given time to explore it and to make to-read lists based on interest.  They have many choices.

How do I know if kids are really reading and understanding?

8. Reading is understanding.  Reading is understanding.  Reading is understanding.  This is posted all around our room.  If a student is not understanding what they are reading, then they are consistently taught to do something about it.  What is making their understanding break down?  Disinterest in the book?  Figuring out unknown words?  

Together, we discuss what makes books challenging.  Why is one book more complex than another?  Can one book be more complex but have less text on a page and more pictures?  We talk a lot about this.

9. Students learn that they are responsible for recognizing when books are too challenging or not meeting their needs.  Mini-conferences with students help me guide kids into this kind of thinking.  I may gently push them toward other texts.

10. During the last two summers, I attempted to read all of the books in our classroom library.  That was a huge undertaking!  Now, when I conference with a student, I am better able to truly discern if their comprehension was adequate because I have actually read the book! 

So usually instead of reading levels, in our class, we use two things:
1. Student accountability for understanding the text and
2. Teacher reading conferences with students to help guide their text selections and to support their understanding.

My students are so much more than a letter M.