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Monthly Archives: November 2013

The View from Saturday #12

We managed pajama readathon.

We finished our narrative unit and will start opinon/argument on Monday.

We will resume our character unit in Reading Workshop on Monday.

A four-day weekend is a great, great thing.

‘Nuff said.

I’m glad you’re with me.

Leaving your mark

A little story for you, for this happy Thanksgiving.

A few weeks ago, I was forced to send the following email:

I think I might have left my bookmark in The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, by Kathi Appelt, when I returned it to Barkley on Friday. A bookmark is a bookmark, but I’ve had this one for about 23 years! Any chance it could be tracked down or folks could keep an eye out for it? It is made of three Antigua stamps featuring Mickey Mouse, Granny Duck, and Huey, Duey, and Louie. I would love to get it back! Also, hello Bethany if you are reading this.

Sure. A bookmark. Big deal.

But it was.

I remember buying that bookmark. I have a frustratingly poor memory when it comes my childhood, but I remember this moment clearly. I think I was in fourth or fifth grade. We were in my childhood independent bookstore, Eagle Harbor Books. I don’t remember what books we bought that day, but I do remember the small basket of homemade bookmarks on the checkout counter. I flipped through them as my mom was paying for books. I discovered the triple-stamp, Disney-themed Antigua postage. Whoever made it had the clever idea to take the stamps and laminate them. Simple, but such a nice idea for a bookmark. I’ve since used that idea to make several bookmarks of my own out of expired membership cards, European paper money, and more.

Anyway. I instantly wanted this bookmark. I begged my mom for it. I don’t know how much it cost, but I came home with it.

The bookmark’s journey for the next many years is fuzzy. It seems likely that I used it for many books, but I do not specifically remember placing it between any middle grade pages during those middle grade years.

So, fast-forward. It may have been college. It may have been shortly after. In any case, I rediscovered this bookmark, probably in a box at my parents’ house. I instantly recognized it, snatched it up, and I came home with it.

For the first nine years of my teaching career, I read some. Not a lot. But I had my Guys Read Club, and I would go through little phases of reading a lot. Back then, I read grown-up books, sometimes. I remember using a variety of bookmarks, including Antigua-Disney.

Then, three years ago, I discovered Twitter, then walked into the clubhouse when #nerdybookclub started, and started reading like a crazy person. I abandoned the pretension and word count of grown-up books and dug deeply into my true love, children’s literature.

With me through every book was that bookmark. Think about it. That’s hundreds of books. Thousands of pages. Millions of words. Not to mention the emotions and thoughts and worries and cares of me, the reader.

So it was a big deal. I got choked up thinking about losing this bookmark. Over three stamps and a plastic coating! Real tears! Real heartache! It had been with me for more than twenty years. It faithfully held my place in hundreds of books. Many of us have books that have touched us, that stay with us, that we hold in our hearts. We feel like those books are a part of us–and they are. They helped shape us. Does a small, flat, rectangular object have powers of its own?

The more I thought about it, the more I felt that the relationship between a reader and his twenty year-old bookmark is something more intimate, deeper than it might seem. That bookmark sat between the pages–pages that I turned with my own fingers, held with my own hands–of nearly every book I’ve read in the last five years, and probably a few hundred in the more than fifteen years before that. There is little so stable and steadfast in one’s life.

I got this email:


Haven’t seen your bookmark here at Barkley, but will let you know if it turns up. It’s a drag to lose something you’ve cherished a long time!


So, I was sad. How many things do you have and have used constantly, continuously, for more than twenty years? How many people do you interact with, every day, for more than twenty years straight?

I was sad. Because I figured my bookmark was gone. I figured whatever kid–I hoped it would be a kid–decided to give Kathi Applet’s newest a try would find it, claim it, and keep it. I hoped she would use it well. Maybe it would be his reading companion for the next twenty years. Maybe it would leave a mark on her reading life–her whole life!–like it did on mine.

And then I received one more email:

Hello Adam,

That bookmark has been located! You may pick it up at the adult circulation desk at the Central Library. It is in our lost and found filebox under your name. I’ll pass your greeting on to Bethany!




And so I went to the Central Branch, to recover what was lost. To pick up my old friend, who knows me more than many, knows what I like and what I despise, who I admire and who I envy, my secret crushes and hated nemeses, who has heard me laugh and seen me cry, and who always, always, waited so patiently for me to return, who saved my spot for me, in my reading life. In my life.

And I came home with it.


It’s Monday, November 25! What are you reading?

“It’s Monday! What are you Reading?” is a meme co-hosted by Jen and Kellee at Teach Mentor Texts. Just like #booksaroundtheroom, it is a way to share books you’ve been reading, reviewing, and loving during the last week. I read a lot, both on my own and with my two kids, Corbchops (1987 days) and The Iza (1232 days). I’m excited to hear what you’ve been reading.

Mon Reading Button PB to YA

On Friday, the Corbchops brought home a reading challenge. Some sort of prize for students when they have read 50, 100, and 150 days. Which, of course, means that he will be getting a prize 50 days from now. It reminded me of summer reading programs that “challenge” kids to read 15 hours, or two books, or whatever. Active readers do that in less than a week.

And the sad part is, of course, that the kids who don’t read will either (a) not bother, or (b) just fill in the log anyway (do you think they’d try to turn it in before 50 days have passed?). Some might be motivated, but 50 days of reading is a daunting number for students who hardly read at all.

To build readers, you have to build readers. Handing them a challenge without support doesn’t do much.

Anyway, we read every day at my house. Here’s what I’ve enjoyed during the last week:

Middle Grade:

I finished one middle grade novel last week.

  • The Truth of Me, by Patricia MacLachlan. Nobody writes short and sweet like Patricia M.

Picture Books:

I  read three new picture books last week.

  • Alphabet Birds, by Philip Terzian. The author gave out this book to trick-or-treaters. :^)
  • This Is the Rope, by Jacqueline Woodson and James Ransome. Nice story of a simple, but valuable, family heirloom.
  • Dot., by Randi Zuckerberg and Joe Berger. Funny that a former Facebook executive wrote this. Must have inspired her.

Graphic Novels:

I read one graphic novel last week. I love graphic novels!


Right now When I finish this blog post, I’m reading:

P.S. Be Eleven, by Rita Williams-Garcia


What are you reading?

The View from Saturday #11

I’ve made it to the number eleven. Eleven is the first two-digit palindrome, you know. So is my room number in the new school, 212. So that’s exciting.

It was an odd week for Reading and Writing Workshop. Very modified, and then the early release conference schedule started, and things got even more messed up.

At the beginning of the week, I co-opted a large chunk of workshop to use for preparation for student led conferences, which started on Thursday. We had to make sure we had enough time to prepare, so I didn’t do Reading Workshop minilessons and didn’t do Writing Workshop at all. We had independent reading time, with me conferring, and then worked on our conference prep (which involved a lot of writing and thinking and planning and reflecting).

Once conferences started, I started up Writing Workshop again. I want to finish the first Unit of Study before Thanksgiving, so we can get right into the next thing during those three weeks before Winter Break. We’re on schedule to do so. This last section of Calkins is about independent writing projects, and how you can use your own writing, the books we read, and more, as “teachers” when you write independently. It fit right in with the reflecting we were doing for our conferences.

Though we weren’t doing reading workshop, I took advantage of the early release schedule to read The Real Boy for 30 minutes a day, instead of 10. Important not just because it is a wonderful book, but because the Calkins Reading unit we’ll dive into after Thanksgiving is about characters, and I wanted to get a little farther into the book, so the class can really know Callie, as well as Oscar.

I’ve been encouraged by my first 12 students’ conferences–they are thinking carefully about what they need to work on most. I told them, “If you don’t bring it up, I will,” and I think a lot of them decided that things were better coming from them. I was worried we wouldn’t be prepared enough, but things have gone smoothly so far. Some of the tough ones still to come, so we’ll see.

So smoothly, in fact, that I feel like I want to reward them with my annual day-before-Thanksgiving pajama readathon. I have never not done this, and I’ve talked a lot with the class about how on the edge we are. I cannot allow it if we can’t read independently for 20 minutes–how would we handle two hours? But our independent reading has been better, and the conferences have been such a pleasant surprise, that I want to do it. I’ll let them know on Monday, but I’ll also let them know that they can certainly change my mind with their choices during the first two days of the week.

It has been encouraging. Having them for only half a day makes for a generally easier time, though I do try to cram a lot in. I’m ready for four days off, and ready to dig into new writing, and ready to explore the characters we know so well (and learn new things about them!).

I’m glad you’re with me.

It’s Monday, November 18! What are you reading?

“It’s Monday! What are you Reading?” is a meme co-hosted by Jen and Kellee at Teach Mentor Texts. Just like #booksaroundtheroom, it is a way to share books you’ve been reading, reviewing, and loving during the last week. I read a lot, both on my own and with my two kids, Corbchops (1980 days) and The Iza (1225 days). I’m excited to hear what you’ve been reading.

Mon Reading Button PB to YA

I have, in fact, been reading. Not as much. But I’ve been doing it. What I haven’t been doing is #IMWAYR. I don’t know if I’ll get this up every week. But I’ll try.

Here’s what I’ve enjoyed during the last week:

Middle Grade:

I finished three middle grade novels last week.

  • A Wig in the Window, by Kristen Kittscher. I listened to this one. It was a lot of fun, though I was unprepared for the staggering number of boob and butt jokes. So, perfect for middle school.
  • The Book of Three, by Lloyd Alexander. I reread this for Girls Read book club. some girls liked it, some didn’t. Some couldn’t even get through it enough to come to the meeting. Surprising! But we had a good discussion, all the same.
  • “When Did You See Her Last?” by Lemony Snicket. More mystery and fun with language from Mr. Snicket.

Picture Books:

I  read 1 new picture book last week.

  • When Marian Sang, by Pam Muñoz Ryan and Brian Selznick. Fantastic picture book biography.


Right now When I finish this blog post, I’m reading:

The Truth of Me, by Patricia MacLachlan


What are you reading?

The View from Saturday #10

Well, it was a weird week.

No school Monday, substitute all day on Tuesday for an ESD thing, substitute in the afternoon on Wednesday for district literacy curriculum adoption “meeting,” I made it to school the whole day on Thursday, and then The Iza was sick so I stayed home for the morning on Friday. Lucky for me, and my students, I was able to have the same sub every day.

Throw in that we started preparing for student-led conferences, and it hasn’t been the normalest of weeks. Next week won’t be much better, since we will be continuing our conference prep on Monday and Tuesday, then have a half day on Wednesday for district things, and then conferences start. Whew.

Anyway. My students have been much better with independent reading, allowing me conference with a lot more students per day, allowing them to have a choice in their reading responses, in turn allowing me to spend less time responding to letters every night. It seems like a win all around. I’m happy about it. Happy enough that I am leaning toward our annual day-before-Thanksgiving-pajama-readathon, which I didn’t really think these students would ever be able to handle (I’m still not convinced, but I’m getting there). We’ll see how it goes moving forward.

So let’s talk about literacy curriculum adoption, instead. Though I don’t use it–I’ve been learning/working/reading/reading/reading Lucy Calkins–my district on its last year, hopefully, of Open Court. This curriculum is thirteen years old and needs to go. It’s taken us as far as it can. So, we are in the process of selecting something else. Our curriculum director brought three programs for us to look at: JourneysImagine It! (the new version of Open Court), and Wonders (brand new–not out until 2014–but maybe someone is piloting it?). Anyone use these? I have a biased and curmudgeonly view of them–I would really, truly love to hear people’s thoughts about them. Do you use them? What do you like or not like about them? Please let me know in the comments. My students depend on your honest assessments. To me, just my impression, is that they all seem like they run on the “worksheet” model, instead of the workshop model–just shinier, newer versions of Open Court (literally, in one case). Our reading scores have plateaued–I feel like we’ve gone as far as we can with these types of curriculums. Non-responsive reading programs, with writing slapped onto the side, are not a fix for what we really need in my district.

Here’s what I want: I want us to not pay for Accelerated Reader, and use that money for books. Why is our picture book collection so lacking? Why is our nonfiction collection boring and outdated? Because we’ve spent thousands of dollars on something that doesn’t give us anything. I want us to not pay $50-60,000 for a curriculum, and instead spend that money on quality professional development around literacy. Invest in teachers and books, not scripted programs. Who is AR really for? It’s for teachers and librarians who want to (a) not read the books their students are reading, (b) not talk with kids about what they are reading, (c) not help students find the perfect book for them, or (d) all of the above. Who are these scripted programs for? They’re for (a) districts who don’t want to spend money on authentic literacy PD, and would rather give teachers a book that tells them what to do, (b) teachers who just want someone to tell them what to do, (c) publishing companies happy to make a buck, or (d) all of the above.

Neither AR nor scripted programs are for students. You know what are for the kids? Harry PotterElephant & Piggie, Captain Underpants, Sisters Grimm, One for the Murphys, The One and Only Ivan, Bink & Gollie, Wonder, Bigger than a Bread Box, Babymouse, poetry, nonfiction picture books, The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, Marty McGuire, biographies, Smile, Amulet, Bone, Squish, Percy Jackson, Dork Diaries, Popularity Papers, Origami Yoda, book clubs, reading aloud, reading with a friend, reading and reading and reading every day, writing and writing and writing every day, Counting by 7s, The Real Boy, A Crooked Kind of Perfect, Tuck Everlasting, Hugo Cabret, celebrating writing and writers, Hatchet, #teambear, #teamrabbit, wordless picture books, The Year of Billy Miller, teachers who read, teachers who write, principals who read, principals who write, librarians who read, librarians who write, Jerry Spinelli, Christopher Paul Curtis, Sharon Creech, and gosh I could go on forever.

Let’s invest in that.

understand that is harder. I understand that it is more work. I understand that it might be more money up front. I understand that it is scary and change and uncertain and new and different. I understand. I just don’t care about that.

I care about kids. I care about my students. So let’s get started.


I’m glad you’re with me.


The View from Saturday #9

Maybe, it was one of the best weeks of the year. Maybe, we are getting somewhere. Maybe, I won’t completely lose my mind this year. Maybe.

Any week when I give myself a break from Lucy Calkins is like adding an hour of free time to every evening. Of course, that hour quickly gets filled up with everything else. I like the Units of Study, but I don’t mind at all taking days off from all the reading required to prepare for those lessons.

This week, we made anchor charts for responding to reading with a sketch/drawing, book review, and story mountain. My students held up their end of the bargain–I was able to confer with 18 students, three more than our goal. So next week 2/3 of them will get to choose how they respond to their reading for the week. I’m glad the class was able to do it. I’m looking forward to seeing how students use their new choices. I’m nervous about the weeks that we don’t meet my minimum conference requirements.

In writing, we finally had a sharing day. Six students turned in a published story for inclusion in our Volume 1 anthology. The stories weren’t the best–one was entirely dialogue, the rest had essentially no dialogue–but the class loved them and the writers enjoyed the attention. I think it will motivate students to work harder and more quickly on their writing–a lot of them will want to share next time. Hopefully, students will also be motivated to revise and improve their own writing after hearing what their classmates are trying.

The dialogue-heavy story is a good example. The author wrote some really wonderful dialogue–very natural, very funny–and read with wonderful expression. I think it will lead more students to try to imagine natural dialogue and put it into their stories. I need to meet with the author separately to talk about including setting, action, etc., but it was great for him to share and for students to hear.

Next week, we will commandeer Reading and Writing Workshop to work and prepare for student-led conferences, which start on November 21.  I’m busy grading on-demand writing so that students can have time to reflect and set goals and think about what they want to talk about with their parents. I’m curious what they will say. We’ll be spending some time learning about having a growth-mindset.

I’m glad you’re with me.

The View from Saturday #8

Number 8? And I skipped the first week. So nine weeks I’ve been working on Reading and Writing Workshop.

I really just want to reflect on two things today. Oh, and my class finally drove me to tears yesterday. But not in front of them! Just in front of my wife…I’m better now.

First, I’ve been thinking a lot about assessment. Conferences are coming up, and I’m not really sure what to do for a Reading grade. What do others do? With our old curriculum, Open Court, the Reading grade is easy. Read some stories, do some worksheets, take some quizzes and tests, and violà!, Reading grade. This Reading and Writing Workshop thing is a bit trickier. A lot better, but a bit trickier. So, can I get your help on this one? I have tons of notes from Readers’ Notebook letters, some notes from admittedly inadequate one-on-one conferences. How do I turn this into a grade that the students and their parents can understand? It doesn’t help that my school is also in transition from ABCDF to standards-based grading, so there is nothing in place. Open Court works pretty well with ABCDF. RWW works pretty well with standards-based. But neither of them work very well with “transitional period.” Anyway, I would love your thoughts and advice, if you have any.

Second, I have finally agreed with those around me, that I am working too hard, and my students are not working hard enough. So I made a deal with them. I told them about my dissatisfaction with the number of reading conferences I was able to do each week. We discussed reasons why: Time wasting during minilessons leads to less independent reading time; too many off task during reading time leads to me needing to manage. I told them I want to be able to do 20 conferences a week.

So here’s the deal: If I can do 20 conferences per week, then they can have a choice rotation for their reading responses. The Readers’ Notebook letter is difficult for my students. Prior to this year, all they had to do with the book they were reading was take an AR test. Now they have to actually think about their book? Gah! I know it is a struggle, and I have given and demonstrated many, many strategies, to little success. So I knew my offer would be well-received. Provided we tighten things up so I can do some significant conferencing, they will only need to write a letter every three weeks. On the other two, they can choose between a drawing+explanation/reasons, a story mountain, a book review, and maybe other things as we move forward (Thanks to my admired and trusted Twitter friend Katherine Sokolowski for thoughts on those options). It is a trade off–when I’m not able to conference much, the letters provide much of my formative data; if I can conference more, I can get that “letter-data” from one-on-one conversations, instead.

It was well-received. One student asked if she could still write a letter every week (“Of course you can, you perfect child!). Another asked if he could write a letter never (Sorry, but no). We will see how many conferences I get done this week. I made a first-week goal of 15 conferences, three per day. The next week I will be looking for a four-per-day average. And then parent-student-teacher conference week and Thanksgiving blows everything up.

I would love to hear your thoughts.

I’m glad you’re with me.