Monthly Archives: February 2016

SOL-Professional Development


SOL- February 23, 2016

Professional Development

I am a professional development lover. I have been lucky throughout my life to have access to great professional development, whether paid for by my school or myself.  One thing I have loved in recent years is the trend toward self directed professional development instead of always being a whole school model. I can honestly say so much of my growth has been from a distance, rather than in person, whether via Twitter, blogs, professional books clubs, or even online courses. In spite of all this, there really is nothing like live, in person professional development opportunities where the community of learners is all in one place at one time. Being an international teacher sometimes means I have more opportunities and at other times it means that my schedule does not permit the courses I would like to take (whether because of time zone issues, school calendaring, or distance). What that often means is a busy summer fitting in as much professional development as is reasonable, without taking away all of my “off time”.

Tomorrow I am applying to The Teachers College Summer Institute for reading and writing and I am nervous. It occurs to me that this is the first time in a long time that I have had to apply for PD I wanted- it has generally been a matter of signing up, not having to be selected. It has been an interesting process. I have written drafts of my application essays and yet I feel dissatisfied. It has been a valuable experience to think more deeply about what has influenced my practice, but I have found my work does not fully express my writing and reading workshop journey thus far and how eager I am to continue working on my learning. I have read so many professional books written by educators connected to TCRWP and use resources from their site regularly. I have followed the institutes vicariously over the years- initially by reading the notes of friends and more recently via blogs and Twitter, but now I am eager to jump in participate myself. My slice today feels a bit “messier” than a slice- it is a big bite of the pie I am aiming for, as I know it will be a game changer PD for me,  and the fear of failure is lurking at the back of my mind. I love growing new ideas and look forward to the chance to learn with so many passionate educators. If is does not work out for this summer I know that I will take the risk again in the future as development is a process, not a one time event.

#nf10for10 2016 Edition

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Each February, Cathy Mere from Reflect and Refine and Mandy Robek of Enjoy and Embrace Learning host the 10 for 10 Nonfiction Picture Book Event. As someone who “might” have an addiction to kid lit it is a dangerous collection of posts to browse. Consider yourself warned.

This year I have enjoyed so much great nonfiction. I have been particularly struck with all of the genre-smashing/bending books. I decided to ask my third graders for help in compiling this list and assure you that many more favorites  are being read over and over in our class.

NF Picture Books That 3EV Loves:

Finding Winnie– this is a book that I love more each time I read it. In class, we liked it because we called it for our Mock Caldecott and it taught us that biographies do not have to focus only on people. 24819508.jpg Deadliest  Animals– we used this book as a mentor text for our first nonfiction writing unit and then the PTA paid for an author Skype with Melissa Stewart. Needless to say, the students hung on her every word and her tips helped their writing. As a bonus, her website is a goldmine for teachers and students.


Talk, Talk, Squawk! A Human’s Guide to Animal Communication– while I love everything I have read by Nicola Davies, this was new to me this year. The kids LOVED learning about how animals communicate (and I think they loved the title too). Several students used this as they researched.


How to Swallow a Pig– who doesn’t love a “how-to”? This book had us feel all the feels- we laughed, we ughed, we gagged, you get the idea! It gave me a good reason to pull out other books by this amazing duo.



Swan– is a book I heard about as it was written. Laurel Snyder’s love of the topic shines through in her word choice. I was leaving the US before it was published, but the amazing Mr. Schu (John Schumacher) gifted me with a copy of it when we met up at the Boston Scholastic Book Summit. The words and pictures evoke magic and as we studied life lessons that biographies can teach us the students came back to this one again and again.


Water Is Water– water is a thread running through our science and social studies units and we read this one during our ecosystems study. We loved the simplicity of the text, combined with the complexity of the learning.

22718699.jpgGrowing Up Pedro– this was a book that absolutely captivated the readers in 3EV (as a bonus they loved undressing this book- make sure you look under the jacket). They loved the relationship between the brothers and the pay off for the hard work. This is one that the kids still talk about.


I’m Trying to Love Spiders– we loved the participatory demands in this book! The author has you hooked as the main character tries to convince herself that spiders are worthy of love. The ending was great.


A City Through Time– as we started to learn about ancient civilizations picture books were a great in. A student who recently joined the class without much English was especially fond of the book and rushed over to share it with his mom when she visited.


My tenth choice is a joint selection… the nonfiction books my third graders have written. The writing this year have amazed me! It is my first year using the Units of Study from Teachers College and I can really see a difference in my teaching and the students’ learning. I have learned more about cat communication, praying mantises, King Tut, relaxation, and so much more! I know I will continue to learn from their writing throughout the year (and hope they will share more of it more publicly).


Happy reading!


SOL- Book Clubs!


February 16, 2016

Book Clubs

It is a time the students have been waiting for- we are back to book clubs. Just before our Christmas break, we had “mini book clubs” where the students read nonfiction books. Then we practiced having student-led conversations and pushing thinking. These book clubs are more- they are working in these groups for a longer stretch of time and the chapter books they will read require a lot more thought.

Anticipation built as we moved through our Character Studies unit- when would the book clubs start? Monday (yesterday) was the day- the clubs were set! Then they had the work of choosing a group name, agreeing on a first book, and beginning to sort out group expectations and norms. Today (Tuesday) we had a bit of a slide back- four students forgot their books, some had not done the reading their group had agreed to. So today each group spent time together- creating a poster with their club name, deciding upon group expectations, and really bonding as a group. We spent time talking about the need to depend on each other to be ready for group.  Hopefully, tomorrow will be a better day for that. As students created reading calendars together I could hear their chatter. They were sharing thoughts about what they were reading, remarking on each reader’s strengths in the group, coming together to work on shared agreements. Sometimes I have to take a step back and notice the work that we are asking these students to do is really complex- and the best part is they are loving it!

As students were packing up I heard one boy (who had forgotten his book at home) go around to his club members to remind them of what they had agreed to read tonight. At home, as I prepare for tomorrow I am reading all four books. I hope that Ivy and Bean, Roscoe Riley, Gooney Bird Greene, and Amber Brown will become shared friends in the class- I will listen for the connections they make to these kids who could be like them, or like someone they know. I love the power of shared reading to help build community.

Do I Have the Right Stuff?


SOL- February 9, 2016

Do I Have the Right Stuff?

I am telling myself that I will be okay if I do not get it. That it might just be a case of numbers and not being the one to fill the groups. I am telling myself over and over that many more people apply than get accepted. I know all this is true and yet, in reality, I know that I want this so much. I also believe that it is the right time for me to benefit from this experience first hand. I think that I will be a good ambassador to share what I learn with as many people as possible. It is so scary to put myself in a position where I may get rejected. I know that these feelings are all normal, but yikes! In less than a month I will know if it is to be for me or not (this time). Until then I will do my best to work toward my goal.

Going through this right now is making me a more empathetic mom and teacher. My older son is trying to get a new job and he is not really sure what he wants it to be. He is trying to decide what his priorities are and what compromises he is willing to make. I listen and ask him questions, trying to help him listen to his head and heart. It is hard when you are not sure what you want, but is learning a lot about what might be his choices. He is setting goals and deadlines for himself.

My third graders are setting goals in new units- I am encouraging the Goldilocks method- not too easy, not too hard, but just right. Here’s where I struggle- how does anyone really know what is too easy and what is too hard without jumping in and trying. We all hope for success, but we know in our heads that it may not work out that way at the start. These students are doing a great job looking at their work and choosing their own next steps. My job is to try to support them on their paths.

Here’s to working toward success- and hoping that with practice it gets easier to take the steps toward it. I know that it is in taking chances that we grow.

SOL- Writing Ripples


February 2, 2016

Writing Ripples

This last week and a bit has been exciting. It has been fun to see the ripples that can happen when there are small changes. It has been motivating to see the #Edtime2wrt taking off and it has been especially thrilling to see colleagues at my school try it out. It has been exciting to see the ideas percolate in our Voxer group- real connections are being made and I have already got many new ideas.

Of course, day to day life takes over and we all get busy, so the change I am seeing up close is the change in my classroom. We began a new writing unit on Monday and we started it by writing an on demand. For the first time, I took the time to do my own writing the day before. I have to admit I can not remember the last time I wrote straight up fiction- blogging for me has always been nonfiction. It was fascinating to follow the students’ path. I set my timer for some planning time (I did not have a writing partner to talk to, but wrote my planning out), then set another timer for my writing time. When I had 5 minutes left I took the time to do a bit of revison and editing and wrote a note at the end to remind myself about what I would change if I were to continue to work on this piece. Before I had the students write I shared the process I had gone through (but did not read my piece for fear of too many variations on it appearing in their writing, but I will share it with them in the near future). Doing the work they did made me appreciate their work more. I was amazed at the volume of writing in so many students. I was thrilled to see carryover from lessons taught earleir in the year. These daily routines of writing are paying off and although there are many miles to go, it was great to be able to notice the many small steps they are making. I made observations as they wrote and noticed who read over therir writing when they got stuck, who took long breaks without writing, who really took time to revise and edit (a few even asking to go out of the classroom to read their writing aloud to themselfves). I think that some of these things may have gone unnoticed if I were not as tuned in to my own writing process. It was a day to celebrate the writing that had gone before and begin to set goals for the writing ahead.

As I get my own writing self more engaged I am also trying to find more opportunities for my students to write- both for themselves and for a real audience. They have enjoyed participating in #sstime2wrt and have appreciated comments via Twitter. We have started talking about the Classroom SOL Challenge and many are already saying they want to participate (it will be strictly optional- they write each weeknight anyway, so it will be up to them if they want to take on the challenge of daily blogging and commenting).

It is an exciting time to be a member of the writing community in 3EV! Togther we are better! Thanks for being a part of our extended writing community too!