How to Save Money in Education

Jay Mathew’s column in the Washington Post today lists seven ways that schools can save money without spending a dime.  Three of those reasons are directly related to reading and I love them.  But the best of ideas is #1 on the list:

Replace elementary school homework with free reading. Throw away the expensive take-home textbooks, the boring worksheets and the fiendish make-a-log-cabin-out-of-Tootsie-Rolls projects. One of the clearest (and most ignored) findings of educational research is that elementary students who do lots of homework don’t learn more than students who do none. Eliminating traditional homework for this age group will save paper, reduce textbook losses and sweeten home life. Students should be asked instead to read something, maybe with their parents — at least 10 minutes a night for first-graders, 20 minutes for second-graders and so on. Teachers can ask a few kids each day what they learned from their reading to discourage shirkers.


Yes!  Yes!  Yes!  This would be absolutely invaluable for our students.  And I can take it one step further- instead of questioning a few students each day, run reading workshop.  Conference with students, have them complete letter essays in the upper grades, and otherwise engage them with their reading.  If only this would actually happen….

Comprehension Connections

I think I have mentioned Comprehension Connections: Bridges to Strategic Reading by Tanny McGregor before, but it is an invaluable tool for any language arts teacher! Today I used one of the lesson suggestions for inference and it was a huge success!

I brought in a bag of “trash” that I told my kids I took from my weird neighbor’s porch. I really do have a weird neighbor, who I know very little about, so I described him. Then I told them we would be inferring information about him based on the items in his garbage. The kids had a BALL with it! By the end of the activity they were concerned for my safety based on what the inferred. It was great!

In their independent reading, they are now working on an inference chart, making inferences about the main character in their novels and citing the evidence to back them up. So far it’s going very well.

If you don’t already own this book, I highly recommend it!

Valentine’s Day Hope Chests

In my first year of teaching I instituted my favorite tradition of the school year- Valentine’s Day Hope Chests.  I first found out about “Holiday Hope Chests” on Beth Newingham’s Scholastic website. Each chest  is actually a decorated shoe box, filled with small toys, games,  and art supplies chosen especially for a girl or boy of a certain age. My students also make Valentines to enclose in each chest. The chest gives the receiving child a “treasure chest” in which to keep the items together. We donate our hope chests to a local children’s hospital, The Institute for Children with Cancer and Blood Disorders at Robert Wood Johnson.  

As a student at Rutgers, I participated in the Dance Marathon, a 36 hour event that raised money for the Institute.  Meeting the children at the Institute was a life-changing event and I wanted to stay involved when I started teaching.  The Hope Chests were a perfect way to do this.  During my first year of teaching I spoke with one of the child-life specialists at the Institute.  I explained to her what I wanted to do and she was thrilled.  We decided to donate the boxes for Valentine’s Day because it was a holiday that was frequently ignored when other people made donations to the hospital (unlike Christmas and Hanukkah, for example).

Our hope chests begin with a letter we send home to all 100 of our students and their parents.  Each student is asked to bring in a few items (new, unused) that will fit in the shoe boxes.  They are also asked to donate empty shoe boxes.  For two weeks we collect the toys, games, books, art supplies, and boxes.  This past Friday, we spent the morning organizing and decorating!

The students worked in groups, picking out items to fill their boxes with.  After filling the box and decorating it, they labeled the bottom- for example, “Girl 10-12″ or “Boy 6-8″.  They also made valentines to place in each box.   

Watching the students carefully put the boxes together is a wonderful feeling.  They are so careful and selective, making sure each box is perfect.  They painstakingly decorate the inside and outside, making the hope chests absolutely perfect.  Their valentines were colored, decorated, and signed with love and care.  It was a beautiful sight and a wonderful morning.  

Immediately after-school, one of my teammates and I drove the Hope Chests to the Institute.  This year, we donated almost 60 Hope Chests, which were to be given out at the hospital’s Valentine’s Day party on Saturday.  :)



Graceling by Kristin Cashore

A few months ago, i started to read Graceling, got a few pages in, put it down, and never went back. I kept reading reviews that were falling over themselves for the book and I really didn’t get it. I wanted to get it- believe me! I was starting to feel left out!

Earlier this week I picked Graceling up again. This time, I started reading and couldn’t put it down. I was completely pulled into Po and Katsa’s world. I wanted to be Katsa! I don’t know what changed in those few months, but this time Graceling was the book for me! And now I finally know what everyone is talking about!

Katsa is a warrior-girl  with one blue eye and one green eye. She is striking and gorgeous, but this also marks her as a Graceling. Gracelings are beings with special talents—mindreading, dancing, foreseeing weather conditions. Katsa’s Grace is considered more useful: her ability to fight and kill is unequaled in the seven kingdoms of her world. Forced to act as a bully and brute, a hitman for all intents, for a her uncle the king, Katsa channels her guilt by forming a secret council of like-minded citizens who carry out secret missions to promote justice over cruelty and abuses of power.  When she meets her match, another Graceling, she begins to discover who and what she really is.

This is a gorgeous romance set amid a fantastic fantasy.  Cashore has given birth to a new world within these seven kingdoms, and the romance between Po and Katsa will leave your heart racing.  The characters are all fully realized, the setting will have you yearning to visit, and the action will keep you on the edge of your seat.  Thank goodness this is the first in a series!  

(This is  great read for teens and adults.  I’m not sure if I will put it in my classroom library yet, as Katsa does have a sexual relationship.  It’s extremely tasteful, not graphic at all (and honestly, I’m not sure if most middle graders would even realize it)).


Today’s thought process went something like this:

“Ugh, it’s 8:30am.  I need to take more decongestant.”

Sleep until 11:00.


“We need to go out and buy Mucinex…my mom and the doctor said it’s my best bet.  OH MY GOD IT’S CYBILS DAY!”

Run down the stairs, turn on the computer, wait impatiently for it to wake up.  Load up the Cybils website and squee while reading all of the winners!

Check them out for yourself!

Hot Books in My Classroom

I haven’t done a Hot Books post in a while. But I’m back with a great list.  I was out for the past two days with an awful cold, and when I came back today I had kids begging to talk to me about their books.  Here are some of the books they chatted about today!

The Luxe series is being passed from one girl to another in my morning class. Every morning one of them runs into school just bursting to talk about what she read the night before. And we have to whisper, because there are five girls behind her who haven’t read as far into the series as she has!  It’s awesome.

And of course, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw hasn’t been seen since I first handed it to a student last month. Other than bursts of hysterical laughter during independent reading.

Neil Gaiman’s Coraline and The Graveyard Book have been gaining a lot of fans lately. In fact, when I came back to school today one of my reluctant readers told me he had finished The Graveyard Book and it was an awesome book, “maybe even better than the dead and the gone!"

Two of my more reluctant girl readers have been struggling to find books they enjoy. But just this past month I think we may have found it! One of them is reading Wendy Mass’ Heaven Looks a Lot Like the Mall and loving it. The intriguing plot, combined with the ease of the verse novel set-up, has really hooked her. And her friend can not put down Frances O’Roark Dowell’s The Kind of Friends We Used to Be, the sequel to The Secret Language of Girls.  I am thrilled that they are both finding their niche!

These are just a few of the most popular books in my classroom right now!

Bones of Faerie by Janni Lee Simner

I first got wind of Janni Lee Simner’s Bones of Faerie at a publisher’s preview last fall.  When the representative described the book as post-apocalyptic fantasy, I was immediately intrigued.  I spotted a copy of Bones of Faerie at Barnes and Noble last week and fell in love with the cover (contrasting black and pale blue).  While I was sick yesterday I was able to finish the book and now I want to make everyone I know read it!

Post-apocalyptic fantasy?  Faeries?  Dystopian?  Can all of these words really describe one book?  And can that book possibly be good with all of that going on?  In Janni Lee Simner’s case, the answer is a resounding yes!  

The War between humanity and Faerie devastated both sides.  Fifteen-year old Liza only knows about Before from warnings and stories told by humans who lived through the War.  There are references to things like TV, airplanes, and plastic- all gone since the War.  Magic is forbidden now, and nothing in Faerie has been seen or heard from since the War.  However, the remnants of the War still remain- plants that are now predators, animals that have developed increased predatory skills toward humans, and crops that fight against being harvested.  

Liza’s town is closed to strangers and they struggle to survive.  If children are born with the markings of magic (pale hair) they are killed.  Liza’s baby sister, Rebecca, was left on a hillside to die when her father saw that she was clearly fay.  Liza’s mother runs away soon after, and Liza follows when she realizes she, too, might be magic.  

She is joined by Matthew, a friend who shares his secret with her- he is magic.  Together, they seek out her mother, making new friends along the way.  Liza begins to realize that not all towns are like hers.  And that maybe magic can be good.  Maybe the Faerie and human worlds can coexist in peace.  Just maybe.

This is a though-provoking page-turner that and I really, really enjoyed it.  The post-apocalyptic magic angle is one I haven’t seen explored before and yet it worked so well.  You will be hooked as soon as you read the first paragraph of this debut YA from Janni Lee Simner.  Simner has crafted a believable, haunting world  and I hope that she writes more about the War!  In fact, I am already dying for a prequel, to learn exactly what happened between Faerie and humanity.  Thankfully, I am at least a bit appeased by Simner’s short story in  Coyote Wild Magazine, “Invasive Species,” set in the world of Bones of Faerie. 

If you love dystopian fiction, this one is for you!


Too sick to review today.  I promise reviews tomorrow!

Swamped with report cards

This past week has been one filled with report cards, report cards, and more report cards.  And on top of that, I now have an awful cold!  But now I am relaxing while watching the Westminster Dog Show, one of my favorite events of the year.  While I relax, here are some random bits I picked up around the web this week:

  • The Library of Congress’ Flickr Photostream- So many cool photos, with more being added everyday.  
  • This phenomenal chalk art is absolutely stunning.  My favorite is the monarch, of course.  But all of them are awesome.  Thanks to the London Paper.
  • Classroom 2.0 if full of ideas for using technology in the classroom.  I’ve only explored a little bit so far, but I love what I have found.

Memoir Monday

   He is almost as old as me.  In fact, he has been in my life since my second day on this earth.  Doggyhat is my teddy bear.  Never a dog, and no longer wearing a hat, he has been by my side (or on my bed) for my entire life.  He has moved from one home to another with me.  He came to college with me.  He moved into my condo with me.  And someday he will be given to my child.

Oh sure- my mom tried to replace him more than once.  I once went to bed as a child only to discover an impostor Doggyhat!  He was bigger, newer, softer (and certainly cleaner) and I threw a fit.  Doggyhat was irreplaceable and my mom learned that very quickly.  Sure enough, within a few minutes the original Doggyhat was back in my bed after being rescued from the trash and quickly washed.  And the impostor disappeared, handed off to a younger sibling.

Small enough to fit in the crook of my arm, my pink teddy bear is missing a few patches of fur, his nose is scratched and dented, and he lost his hat decades ago.  But nothing makes me feel better than glancing to my bedside table and seeing him on my shelf.  He can’t talk.  He can’t make a sound.  But a quick brush of his fur and I am transported back to the most comforting times of my life with the most important people in my life.


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