Reflecting on Reading Workshop

My school is on spring break this week and I am enjoying some much needed rest and relaxation. However, I am also using this week to do some reflecting and planning. Last night I ordered a few books that I want to use in planning our April Poetry Month and our upcoming Holocaust unit. But today I finally sat down and did some of the professional reading I have been putting off.

I read about half of Franki Sibberson and Karen Szymusiak’s Day-to-Day Assessment in the Reading Workshop: Making Informed Instructional Decisions in Grades 3-6 and can’t wait to read more! As Franki and Karen say in the beginning of the book, there is a dearth of professional literature related to reading and writing workshop in the intermediate grades. As a 6th grade teacher, I have a hard time finding appropriate professional reading. Books either focus on early readers or middle school readers. Perhaps if my 6th graders were in a middle school environment it would be easier, but we are in an intermediate school. In our district, 7th and 8th graders are in the middle school. Thus, I have been looking forward to reading this book. I had no idea how awesome it would be!

Franki and Karen have broken down their reading workshop into manageable chunks. I am thrilled that each chapter deals with a different routine in reading workshop, including how much time is spent on each one. Very few books get into the nitty gritty of a teacher’s routine and even fewer include as much real classroom anecdotal evidence. I’ve been reading, flagging, reading more, jotting ideas, and flagging more. I’ve already come up with a few new ideas to integrate into my workshop. Even better, I have a new perspective on my reading workshop. I’ve struggled with assessing my readers this year. While I know I have succeeded in creating a room full of passionate, habitual, and critical readers (Atwell) I also know I have not done the best I can in terms of assessment. I need that hard data to back up my choice to use reading workshop (it’s not used in the intermediate/upper grades in my district) and Franki and Karen’s book is full of authentic and realistic assessments that I can integrate into my workshop routines.

This type of reflection and reading energizes me.  I am brimming with new ideas for my classroom and can’t wait to implement some of them!  I am also planning to attend TCRWP Saturday Reunion this coming weekend, which will also be an inspiring bit of professional development.  I should be rested, relaxed, and re-energized when we get back to school next week!

I’m only about halfway through the book right now but I expect to finish it tomorrow. I expect I will re-read it over the summer when I am planning for next year. I can not recommend this book enough!


Hot Books in March

I apologize…I am a few days late with this month’s installment of Hot Books in my classroom. For my new readers, a quick explanation: Every month I publish a list of the 5-6 books that are currently the most popular reads in my 6th grade classroom. To see previous lists, please click on the Hot Books tag under keywords.

Allie Finkle’s Rules For Girls: Moving Day by Meg Cabot: I haven’t even had a chance to read this novel, Meg Cabot’s first foray into middle grade fiction. I received an ARC at ALA Midwinter and passed it on to one of my pickiest girls. She finished the book in one night and came in the next morning raving about it! She told me I needed to read it, but first she had a list of classmates to pass it on to. It’s been making it’s way around my classroom ever since and Cabot has been winning fans left and right. The same student also read my ARC of Airhead by Meg Cabot and passed it on to another friend (thankfully, I had time to read and review it first!

The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt: I have loved “Wednesday Wars” since I first read and reviewed it back in December. I tried to handsell it to my students but rarely succeeded (historical fiction is always a hard sell to middle schoolers, I think). I finally succeeded when I used “The Wednesday Wars” as part of my historical fiction literature circles this past month. The lit circle who read “The Wednesday Wars” absolutely loved it and they have been recommending to their classmates. During conferences, one of their moms told me “I can’t believe my son. He sits down on the couch at night, pulls on a blanket, and opens that Wednesday book. All on his own! It’s amazing!” That some boy just finished it and told me it’s one of his favorite books of all time!

Marley: A Dog Like No Other by John Grogan: Our latest read-aloud is a huge hit. It’s the first time I have read a non-fiction novel aloud and my students are loving it. Marley is easy to relate to and my students are laughing and sharing their own stories throughout our shared reading time. Puppies and puppy stories are always fun and my students are relating to the Grogan family and Marley. Be careful, though…there are a few versions of Marley’s story. Marley: A Dog Like No Other is the middle grade version of the novel. Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog is the adult best-seller and deals with the Grogan family’s attempts to conceive, too. Just a caveat emptor. 🙂

The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis: Another choice in our recent literature circles, this was not a popular choice on the first day.  To be honest, I blame the cover.  It doesn’t exactly scream “read me!” to middle schoolers.  However, at the first meeting, the originally unhappy literature circle group was singing the praises of Curtis.  They thought the novel was funny and touching, but “not too touching!” they told me.  Heaven forbid it was too sensitive. 🙂  Both boys and girls alike enjoyed the novel and they learned a lot about life in the south and the Sixteenth St. church burning in 1963.  Now if only the publishers would give it a better cover…..

These are only a few of the novels currently making a splash in my 6th grade class.  I have promised my classes that after spring break I will have many more books for them.  I will actually have a chance to read and review so I can bring them in a handful of ARCS and other books I have in my to-be-read pile.  I’m sure next month’s list will include many of those new titles.

Slice of Life Challenge #18


Back in January, we purchased tickets to see Michael Buble at the Borgata in Atlantic City.  Growing up, I used to listen to Sinatra, Dean Martin, and the rest of the Rat Pack.  Over the last few years I have become a huge fan of Michael Buble. He has a gorgeous voice and balances his own ballads with the beautiful music of the past.  He also has a wicked sense of humor and keeps me in stitches whenever I see an interview he gives.  Thus, when I saw he would be in AC, I purchased us tickets without a second thought.  Buble is music my boyfriend and I can actually agree on- as a music-minded person, he appreciates the full band and classic songs.  We both love his jokes and sense of humor.

After watching most of the NCAA games last night, we packed into the car and drove the 1.5 hours to Atlantic City.  Once we got there, we were happy to see that the parking deck had a lot of empty spaces and we would have no trouble parking.  We parked on the 4th level  and attempted to get into the Borgata.  We ended up taking the stairs to what we thought would be the entrance.  Instead we ended up in a dead end.  We backtracked and eventually found the elevators to the casino floor.

Once inside we made our way to the Event Center.  We arrived about 20 minutes before Michael came out.  We caught the end of the opening act, Naturally 7, an acoustic group that used their voices as instruments.  Very cool!  Then, right before 9pm the lights suddenly went out. It was pitch black…until these amazing lights came on, forming an MB. The crowd, full of men and women ages 5-95, went insane with excitement!   Suddenly, the opening to “I’m Your Man” began to play.  The music played a long intro, drawing the crowd to their feet in search of Michael.  And then, there he was!  Clad in a classic suit and tie, his voice filled the theater.

Michael sang and entertained for about an hour and half.  His interactions with the audience kept everyone laughing and his voice kept everyone swooning!  It was an amazing night!

On top of everything else, Michael’s girlfriend was in the audience, only about 15 feet from our seats.  For those who don’t know, his girlfriend is Emily Blunt- the actress who was in The Devil Wears Prada.  She walked out of the concert with us and was absolutely stunning.  She was also incredibly sweet and down-to-earth.  I was star-struck!  She wasn’t as tall as I expected.  Nor was she wearing any make-up.  Yet she looked incredible.  It was amazing!

The entire night was a dream….I can’t wait to go to my next concert!

Slice of Life Challenge #17


March Madness is one of my favorite times of year.  I spend hours planning my bracket, trying to predict the upsets and the must-wins.  This year, I am very lucky to be on spring break during the first round which allowed me to watch almost all the games on Thursday and Friday.  I sat on the couch, bracket open in one window on my Macbook and the always-updating Yahoo scoreboard in another window.  The current game on CBS was on my HDTV, making me feel like I was in the arena.

Every game is exciting during March Madness.  Seeds, records, and previous losses mean nothing- it’s luck, determination, and blind faith that lead Cinderella teams to the elusive second and third round.  I may not know the players from a school like Drake or Sienna, but their hustle and will to win have me cheering for me like they are my own alma mater.

I am easily pulled into cheering for the underdog, whether it busts my bracket or not.  I love seeing that tiny school, the one no one has ever heard of before, taking down a school like Duke or UConn.  It’s the magic of the madness and it keeps me on the edge of my seat for hours at a time!

Poetry Friday

This poem came up in a listserv conversation today, and I fell in love with it.  What a beautiful sentiment, and one I surely needed after reading and reviewing “the dead & the gone”.

Wild Geese
by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

from Dream Work by Mary Oliver
published by Atlantic Monthly Press
© Mary Oliver

the dead & the gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Back in January I read and reviewed Susan Beth Pfeffer’s Life As We Knew It, which scared the bejeezus out of me. The story continues to haunt me to this day and I looked forward to reading the companion novel, the dead and the gone, as soon as it was available. I was recently lucky enough to get a copy of the UK edition of the novel (aside here- why are some books published in the UK, in paperback, first?!). I didn’t read it right away, because I had to make sure I was able to handle the heavy material. Neither novel is a quick, fun read and I had to be prepared to deal with the frightening plot that I knew was in store for me.

In the dead and the gone we meet Alex Morales, a seventeen-year old high school junior who lives in New York City when the asteroid hits the moon. He is working at a pizza parlor when the asteroid hits, and because it’s cloudy out, isn’t even aware of what is happening. Like Miranda in Life As We Knew It, Alex is wrapped up in his own problems- his mom is working overtime at a hospital in Queens, Dad is at a funeral in Puerto Rico, and his older brother is deployed in the Marines. Alex is concentrating on maintaining his good grades, getting into college, and trying to look after his two younger sisters. When he gets home from work, the power is out, the cable is out, and no one is broadcasting on the radio. Days pass, and Alex and his sisters begins to realize they are alone. Except for one brief phone call from older brother Carlos, letting them know he is being deployed to Texas, and a static-filled phone call that may have been Papi from Puerto Rico, Alex and his sisters are completely abandoned. They struggle to care for each other and deal with their own emotions. Each sibling faces reality differently: Julie is an impetuous and rebellious thirteen-year old looking to her older siblings for guidance, Bri is a devout Catholic convinced Santa madre de dias will bring them a miracle, and Alex is a mature and loving older brother devoted to saving his sisters. As weeks and months pass, Alex is faced with decisions that not seventeen-year old boy should ever have to face and he deals with each one as best he can. The scene at Yankee Stadium is especially difficult to read and I had a hard time getting through it.

As in Life As We Knew It, the first few days after the asteroid hits aren’t too bad. But chaos takes hold of the city, and it’s a whole different game than out in rural Pennsylvania with Miranda. Unlike Life As We Knew It, the dead and the gone deals with many class issues. Alex and his family are not rich or powerful, and do not live in a wealthy part of New York. When people begin evacuating NYC, they are permitted to leave only if they have the money or connections to do so. Alex, Bri, and Julie are left to fend for themselves.

Within only weeks, food, water, and warm clothing take the place of money and bartering is the new economy. In order to keep bringing in enough food for his sisters, Alex is forced to begin “body-shopping”, a horrible experience requiring him to steal from the fresh bodies that pile up on the streets day after day. However, he is willing to do anything he has to in order to ensure his sisters’ survival.

Throughout the novel, the Morales’ strong Catholic faith is what keeps them going. Though Bri is especially devout (Mami hoped she would have a vocation), all three children attend Catholic school and Mass every Sunday in normal times. Their faith and the faith of their religious leaders helps them survive in more ways than they ever would have thought possible. However, at times their faith is also their downfall.

the dead and the gone is a gripping, haunting, heartbreaking story that is all too realistic. The New York setting allows Pfeffer to tell the same story as she did in Life As We Knew It, but in a drastically different way. While reader of LAWKI will recognize many of the same effects of the asteroid as they saw in LAWKI, the outcome is very different in the tri-state area. This companion novel would be a frightening read on its own, and readers could certainly read it as a stand-alone novel. However, paired with Life As We Knew It, the dead and the gone is absolutely gripping- the harrowing parallel stories of Miranda and Alex will have you making an emergency plan and stocking up on canned goods.

Slice of Life Challenge #16


alex’s lemonade stand  lemon

i fall over




wind blows

cookie dough cream ice


sugar-free pink lemonade

vanilla and chocolate

the crowd huddlestogethertokeepwarm

50 mile per hour winds continue to blow

birthday cake surprise


the first day of spring feels like the touch o winter on my exposed skin

yet still i wait

it’s free rita’s water ice day!

cold or not, i wait in line for my frozen treat

chocolate chip cookie dough