Slice of Life #31

Thank goodness for lunch time.  I was absolutely starving as I walked into the faculty room.  I walked over to the large, industrial strength refrigerator in the corner and pulled open the door.  The fridge was packed with faculty and staff lunches.  I froze- what bag was my lunch in?

I suddenly couldn’t remember!  Did I pack my lunch in a paper bag this morning?  Or was I reusing a plastic grocery store bag?  And what color was the bag?  

I was starving and surrounded by bags of lunch, yet none of them seemed to be mine.

Then, I saw it!  There, buried in the back, was my bag- carrying a salad, dressing, croutons, and goldfish crackers.  Thank goodness!  I grabbed the bag, made my way to my usual seat at our lunch table, and settled in for a quick 20 minute meal.


Slice of Life #30

Ten minutes after school began this morning, I had one of my students go home with pink eye.  Her eye was so swollen, she couldn’t even open it!  I sent her off with classwork and homework for the next two days and carried one with our morning routine.  When lunchtime rolled around, I was already exhausted.

“Sarah, your eye is really red.”

My head shot up and my mouth froze in mid-chew.  What?!  As my teammates all nodded in agreement, I polished off my sandwich in record time and headed for the nurse’s office.

“I just got kicked out of lunch because my teammate’s say it looks like I have pinkeye.  I think I might have just irritated my eye when I put in my contacts, because I do wear contacts, and it’s not itchy or anything but one of my students did go home with pink eye this morning….” I babbled to our substitute nurse.

“Open up and let me see.” As the nurse peered into my eye, my mind was racing.  I can’t get pink eye!  That means 2 days out of school, antibiotics, no contacts, and wearing my really old glasses for days.  Glasses with a scratch on the lens!  I knew I should have ordered new ones this past year.

The nurse finished her exam and said, “It doesn’t look like pink eye to me.  Did you wake up this morning with any eye issues?”  I shook my head.  “Ok, then it’s probably nothing.  Just watch out and try not to touch your eyes too much today.  It’s probably just allergies”.

Relieved, I headed back to the faculty room.  But I knew I would be taking my contacts out as soon as I got home and throwing that pair away!  No taking chances for me.

Slice of Life #29

As I organized my notes for our Holocaust unit of study, I started making a list of the books I would be making available to my students for their book clubs.  At this point I had a pretty good selection of WWII novels, allowing each book club to focus on a different aspect of the Holocaust and WWII.  Using our essential questions, they would be focusing on these different aspects and then sharing them with the class at the end of the unit.  

So far my list was pretty varied:

Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow
Boy Who Dared
Someone Named Eva
Behind the Bedroom Wall
The Green Glass Sea
Under the Blood-Red Sun
I Am a Star: Child of the Holocaust

We would be reading The Devil’s Arithmetic as a class read-aloud, but it still felt like something was missing. As I perused my bookshelves, I found one more book that would be perfect for my developing readers and would cover an aspect of the war that was not already represented. T4 a novel is a verse novel about the T4 program, which targeted the disabled. Perfect! But our school library did not have any copies and I only had one. WIthout even thinking, I logged onto Amazon and placed an order for more copies. I also quickly checked our local library and found two more copies that students would be able to check out.  Within minutes, I had completed my book club planning!

The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child by Donalyn Miller

This is a review I have been struggling to write for about a week now.  Honestly, I was overwhelmed- where could I even begin?  A large part of me wanted nothing more than to post a review that consisted of, “GO BUY THIS BOOK NOW!” but I realized that wouldn’t be very helpful to my readers.  So I will attempt to review Donalyn Miller’s amazing new professional book about the power of reading in the classroom and somehow make sense of the over 100 post-its flagging various pages, passages, and chapters!  (See the picture to the right to look at all my flags)cimg3434

The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child is a slim book packed with information. Donalyn Miller shares her strategies for connecting all of her students with books and helping them become lifelong readers. As someone else who firmly believes in in the power of choice and independent reading in the classroom, her thoughtful and thorough look at how we can do a better job for our students is a joy to read.  

One of my favorite parts of the book is Donalyn’s reworking of the types of readers.  Schools of education teach future teachers about reluctant readers, struggling readers, and other labels for reading.  Donalyn disagrees with these labels and has come up with her own.  As she says, there is no hope in “struggling” or  “reluctant”.  As teachers, we should use positive terms to describe these readers.  

Instead of struggling readers, she refers to developing readers.  These are students who are not reading at grade level for any number of reasons, usually out of their control.  They have the ability to become great readers if their teachers give them the opportunity to read, read, read (with support)!  And instead of reluctant readers, we have dormant readers.  These are students who are passed over by many schools because they can read and they pass the state tests.  But they aren’t readers.  They need teachers and classmates who engage them in reading, helping them to become lifelong readers.  Finally, underground readers are gifted readers who see the reading that they do in school as a necessary evil and very separate from their own reading lives, which are usually rich.  I was an underground reader- reading at my desk while the teacher lectured, reading ahead during whole-class reading, and getting A’s on “reading tests” without even bothering to read the book.  Donalyn points out that districts spend most of their resources on developing readers but we let gifted readers and dormant readers fall to the wayside, so long as they can pass the federally-mandated tests once per year.  What a shame.  (I love these terms and have started using them as part of my own professional language and I think that is something more teachers need to do.)

Donalyn Miller also provides plenty of ideas for integrating independent reading into even the most rigid of schedules.  My own teaching schedule will be changing drastically next year and I was thrilled with her ideas.  Every idea she mentions promotes reading as as a lifelong habit and pleasure, ingraining it into her students’ lives.  She also models her own reading curriculum and the ways she appeases both her district ( gotta pass those damn tests!) and her own principles.  She truly is an inspiration!

In this day and age of standardized tests, scripted curriculums, budget cuts, and teacher layoffs, Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child is truly an inspiration.  This is a book that MUST be put into the hands of every teacher in the nation.  And we NEED to get it to those who make policy in this country- from state senators to President Obama himself.  This book must be read, it must be discussed, and many of the ideas absolutely must be implemented if we are going to reverse the sad course our educational system is taking this century.  Like Donalyn, I too am a book whisperer.  I have seen the growth in my students in just 10 short months when they are given the opportunity to read, to grow, and to become lifelong readers.  And I have seen the results of just a few months in a traditional, rote reading class the next year.  They lose that spark.  They forget that love of reading.  And that is the saddest part of teaching right now.  

The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child is sitting on my shelf right now, in a venerated spot right next to my other teaching bible, The Reading Zone: How to Help Kids Become Skilled, Passionate, Habitual, Critical Readers. This is a book that I know I will be turning to again and again.

Slice of Life #28


I was in the mood for something sweet today, something different.  I didn’t feel like having anything that was in the fridge or the pantry.  Hmmm, I could make cookies, I thought to myself.  Looking around, I seemed to have the necessary ingredients.  But what kind of cookies?  I hopped on the computer and started looking for ideas.  After a few minutes, I found the perfect recipe- Smores Cookies!  Delicious, pretty easy to make, and definitely something different.  I gathered up the necessary ingredients, mixed everything in my KitchenAid mixer and patiently waited for the pure deliciousness that I knew would be these cookies.

And I was right!

They came out of the oven soft and delicious.  And they tasted even better than I could have imagined.  The hardest part was not eating all of them at once!

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

“Dead girl walking,” the boys say in the halls.
“Tell us your secret,” the girls whisper, one toilet to another.
I am that girl.
I am the space between my thighs, daylight shining through.
I am the bones they want, wired on a porcelain frame.

Lia and Cassie are best friends, wintergirls frozen in matchstick bodies, competitors in a deadly contest to see who can be the skinniest. But what comes after size zero and size double-zero? When Cassie succumbs to the demons within, Lia feels she is being haunted by her friend’s restless spirit.”

Laurie Halse Anderson’s newest YA novel, Wintergirls, is a haunting story of loss, depression, anger, and anorexia. Lia is literally dying to be thin.  She and her best friend Cassie, who is bulimic, spent most of their lives competing to be skinny-skinnier-skinniest.  The book opens as Lia learns that Cassie has died alone in a motel room.  Despite the fact that they haven’t been friends for almost a year, Cassie’s death sets Lia on an even more dangerous course.  Lia has been in rehab twice, and after the second time she distanced herself from Cassie.  But on the night she died, Cassie called her 33 times.  And Lia never answered.  

Lia tries to pretend she isn’t affected by her friend’s death, telling her parents, her therapist, and herself that Cassie’s death isn’t hurting her or causing her to relapse.  But at night, she is haunted by Cassie’s ghost, encouraging her to continue starving herself so that they can be together again, as wintergirls- stuck on the border between life and death.  And relapse isn’t the issue- Lia never stopped starving herself.  Instead, Anderson shows the reader the vast array or strategies that girls like Lia use to fool their parents and doctors into thinking that they are eating and staying at a healthy weight.  

The book is told from Lia’s perspective and you are literally in her brain.  The style decisions made by Anderson make the book even more powerful.  There are strike-outs, fragments, sort-of-poems, and words that creep in from the right margin like thoughts fighting to be heard.  Lia’s head isn’t a good place to be.  In fact, you may even hate her at some points.  But you can’t turn away from her.  She is that girl we’ve all known, whether she is a reflection of us or a friend in middle school, high school, or college.  On the outside, she has it all. Her divorced parents live in the same town, she has a great stepsister who adores her, she goes to a normal high school, and has a best friend.  But somewhere in there, Lia gets lost.  As she says, she “failed adolescence” and lost herself.  Constantly berated by the voices in her head that call her “Stupid/ugly/ stupid/bitch/stupid/fat” and unable to look at food without seeing it’s calorie count in parentheses, she is swimming in a fog and about to drown.

Wintergirls isn’t an easy book to review because I don’t think any of my words can do it justice. However, it is a book that every girl, parent, and teacher SHOULD read. Like Anderson’s Speak, this is a powerful, haunting, and lyrical book. It deals with the issue of eating disorders by getting into Lia’s head.  It’s not an easy book to read- I literally felt sick to my stomach at points and my heart was racing throughout it.  In fact, I had to put it down twice because I actually felt stressed out.  When I couldn’t figure out why I was suddenly feeling nervous and stretched, I realized Anderson’s writing was eliciting this physical response in me.  Talk about words having power.  

This is a book that should be read, passed on, and recommended.  This novel will make an impact.  I’m throwing out my prediction now- this will be a National Book Award Finalist or Printz winner.  It’s that powerful and important.

Slice of Life #27

As I scanned through my radio presets, I stopped on the country station.  Is this Kenny Chesney? I thought as I listened to the song that was pouring through my speakers.  Why don’t I know this song?  Does he have an album coming out?  No, he can’t!  He just had a new album this past fall!

As the song continued to play, I started humming along.  Kenny Chesney is one of my favorite artists and I own all of his CDs.  How could he have a new song without me hearing anything about it?  

As the song faded and the DJ started to speak, all of my questions were answered.  “That’s “Out Last Night” by Kenny Chesney, off his new album, Greatest Hits II.  It’s not out until May, but you just heard his newest single!”

Phew, now I could relax.  And I had until May to preorder my summer album- Kenny’s greatest hits!

The Braille Literacy Crisis in America

Earlier this week I received a press release from the National Federation of the Blind that I wanted to share.


An astounding 90 percent of blind people today are Braille illiterate. This would be viewed as a national outrage if the same crisis faced sighted individuals, and yet blind people continue to be deprived of the Braille education and resources they need to obtain jobs, pursue stimulating careers, and enjoy the same opportunities as sighted individuals. Further, Braille illiteracy is the leading contributor to a shocking 70 percent unemployment rate among 1.3 million blind Americans and it’s only going to get worse – 70,000 people are losing their sight each year.

To help fund Braille literacy programs, the NFB has teamed with the U.S. Mint to issue the first coin ever to feature readable Braille.  The Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollar will be launched this Thursday, March 26, 2009 at the NFB’s headquarters in Baltimore, MD, after which the coin will be available for purchase. 

Every coin sold will support Braille education nationwide and ensure that every blind American enjoys the same opportunities for success as sighted individuals. Note, only 400,000 coins will be minted and available for order at until December 31, 2009.

The National Federation of the Blind is also publishing a report to the nation, titled “THE BRAILLE LITERACY CRISIS IN AMERICA: Facing the Truth, Reversing the Trend, Empowering the Blind”.  The report, a comprehensive overview of the crisis and proposed solutions to reverse it, will be posted online on the launch day on March 26, at and

Why is there a Braille literacy crisis? 
As addressed in National Federation of the Blind’s just released “Braille Crisis in America – A Report to the Nation,” there are a number of factors that have led to Braille illiteracy in America, including:

    1. Negative attitudes and false beliefs that Braille is “slow,”  “unusual” and too complicated to learn
    2. Misguided notions that technological advances have become a viable substitute for Braille
    3. Limited access to quality instruction today
    4. Lack of standardized Braille teaching methods and credentialed instructors

What must be done to solve this crisis?                                                                                 

The NFB’s cutting edge research training center– the NFB Jernigan Institute– has launched a national Braille Literacy Campaign to double the number of school-age children reading Braille by 2015.

To help us achieve this goal and fund the campaign, we are partnering with the U.S. Mint to launch a coin with a special mission – the Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollar– available to everyone by the U.S. Mint starting March 26th in honor of the 200th birthday of Louis Braille. 

This stunning, one-of-a-kind collectible in 90% silver is the first U.S. coin in history to feature readable Braille, and marks a turning point for blind people of all ages. Money raised through the coin’s sale and matched dollar for dollar through other fundraising activities will support our Braille Literacy Campaign and literally change the future for tens of thousands of blind people.

How will the funds raised by the coin help blind Americans and increase Braille literacy? 
This Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollar symbolizes the most significant investment in literacy for the blind.  While pressure from consumers and advocacy groups has led thirty-three states to pass legislation mandating that children who are legally blind be given the opportunity to learn Braille, more can be done.

Through its sale we hope to raise upwards of $8 million to:

    • Increase access to Braille instruction and reading materials
    • Expand Braille mentoring, reading-readiness and outreach programs
    • Require national certification in literary Braille among all special education teachers
    • Advance the use of Braille in current and emerging technologies
    • Research new methods of teaching and learning Braille
    • Enact legislation in all 50 states requiring special education teachers of blind children to obtain and maintain the National Certification in Literary Braille by 2015.
    • Make Braille resources more available through online sharing of materials, enhanced production methods, and improved distribution.

Why should I care about the coin? 
Each of us has a right to literacy. Every purchase of this one-of-a-kind commemorative coin will help reverse Braille illiteracy and ensure that every blind American enjoys the same opportunities for success as sighted individuals. When the blind can read, the blind can achieve so much more.


Also, be sure to connect with NFB online: 




Slice of Life #26

Walking into the copy room this morning to run off a non-fiction article for our reading mini-lesson, I groaned.  The all-too-familiar red light was blinking.  Red=bad.  And the bad can be anything.  Maybe it needs paper.  Or it’s jammed. Or thinks it’s jammed.  Or just wants to stop copying.  Whatever it is, it means a good 5-10 minutes attempting to make the copier work while the clock moves closer and closer to the students arriving.  

As I stood in the small, cramped copy room I contemplated my options.  Should I attempt to figure out what was wrong?  Or should I walk all the way to the other side of the school and wait on line for the only other copier in school.  Where I was sure every other teacher would be.  A quandary that teachers all over the country face everyday.

I decided to take on the copier.  Thanks to my time in the classroom, I feel like I could qualify as a certified copier repairwoman.  Plus, I have long, skinny arms that actually reach into the depths of the copier.

One Shot: Over the Fence Great Book Rec- Hot Books in My Classroom

Chasing Ray suggested that we break up the end of winter doldrums by highlighting a book that we loved.  In her post, she gives the image of leaning “over the fence” to tell your neighbor about that fantastic book you just read. In my head, I pictured leaning over one of my student’s desks and whispering about that book that I just read and know they will love, while the rest of the class is in the reading zone.  So, I decided to take my Over the Fence post in a slightly different direction- highlighting the books my students are reading right now that didn’t necessarily get the starred reviews or the blogosphere raves.  But the are books my students are reading and talking about, and I love them!  So here is my latest installment of Hot Books in my Classroom: Over the Fence Edition.

Tween romance novels are all the rage in my room, and the girls in my homeroom are devouring each novel before passing it their group of friends.  The latest favorite? Don’t Die, My Love by Lurlene McDaniel. I remember my McDaniel stage- it drove my mother nuts. She couldn’t understand why I wanted to read so many books about kids my own age dying of terminal illnesses. But because I went through that stage, I totally understand why my girls can’t put Don’t Die, My Love down. It’s full of romance, star-crossed teens, and you know the one of the main characters is going to die. It’s the perfect recipe for tweens. Plus, no matter what the books always have an uplifting and positive message at the end.

While a lot of my girls are passing around Lurlene McDaniel, a group of my boys are currently sharing Ten True Tales: Stories from Iraq.  (I can’t find it online, so it may just be available through Scholastic.)  Every story in this non-fiction book is taken from interviews with men and women who have served in Iraq.  War stories are a huge hit in my room and this one really attracts a lot of my boys because it is so timely.  And when they can’t get their hands on this one, they are reading Guys Write for Guys Read: Boys’ Favorite Authors Write About Being Boys.  The short stories from the author’s remind them of Knucklehead: Tall Tales and Almost True Stories of Growing up Scieszka, which they loved.  Short stories, specifically memoirs, are really popular with my boys this year.

At this point in the year, my students are usually comfortable making recommendations to me, too.  This week, two of my girls highly recommended two of Nora Raleigh Baskin’s book, which I hadn’t read.  They are reading What Every Girl (Except Me) Knows and In the Company of Crazies. Coincidentally, I had just picked up Anything But Typical at the bookstore and decided to add it to my wishlist. I didn’t make the author connection until my students’ made their recommendations! Now I am looking forward to reading all three books (when they are done with the first two!)  I love when my students lean over the fence and make their recommendations; it continues to build that reading community that I work so hard to build and maintain each year!

Really, over the fence recommendations are my bread and butter in the classroom.  Whether I am the one making the recommendation, or it’s being done student-to-student, or if a student is making the recommendation to me- word of mouth propels every book choice in my classroom until students are comfortable with their own choices.  And even then, they are constantly sharing books with each other and with me.  It’s awesome!