Save Ohio’s Libraries!

Save Ohio’s Libraries!
Governor Strickland of Ohio has recommended the elimination of $200+ million from the Public Library Fund over the next two years. This means libraries will close, librarians will be laid off, and children all over Ohio won’t be able to access books!

WHAT YOU CAN DO: You have until July 1, 2009 to be heard! Visit and SaveOhioLibraries for more info.  

If Ohio passes this legislation, more states will follow. Don’t let this happen!


Books I’m Pining For

Right now, my world is centered around a tiny 6 lb monster who likes to cry and bark.  🙂  I’m reading two puppy training books, Puppies For Dummies and My Smart Puppy: Fun, Effective, and Easy Puppy Training (Book & 60min DVD) without much time for anything else. But here are a few books I am looking forward to reading after he settles down….


Also Known As Harper by Ann Haywood Leal- This one has been getting mentions all over the blogosphere so I am dying to get my hands on it!

Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba by Margarite Engle- Last year Engle snuck up on me and snatched a Newbery Honor. So when I saw that Betsy Bird had this book on her Newbery 2010 contenders list, I knew I needed to to read it! Plus, I am always on the lookout for new Holocaust stories that focus on aspects of the tragedy that aren’t a part of the general curriculum at our grade level.

Cold Hands, Warm Heart by Jill Wolfson- I hate doctors and hospitals. I love books about medicine. Weird, huh? The novel focuses on the organ donation process and I am dying to read more.



 Nothing but Ghosts by Beth Kephart- “How do you paint regret?” That sentence has been at the back of my mind ever since reading a review of Beth Kephart’s newest novel. I think I’ll be purchasing this one this week!




L.A. Candy by Lauren Conrad- So sue me, I love The Hills and Lauren Conrad! I am dying to see how this one is, because I’m hearing good things so far. Plus, who doesn’t love a little light, fluffy reading during the summer?



So, what books are you pining for?

Dublin Is Here!

Today was a very exciting and stress-filled day.  My fiance’ and I drove down to Delaware, where we met the breeder and picked up our new puppy- Dublin!



He is currently over-tired.  He’s in the crate, crying for his mother and sister.  It’s so sad!

How to Foster Social Reading

A few days ago Jen Robinson wrote a wonderful post at Booklights about “social reading”, after reading my post about student led book clubs in my classroom.  Jen says,

But what I’d also love to see more of is kids recommending books back and forth that aren’t necessarily huge bestsellers. A kid recommending The Magic Thief or Alabama Moon to his best friend because he loves it, and he wants his friend to read it so that they can compare notes, and discuss it. 

This is what should be happening in classrooms across the country and around the world!  While plenty of my students have read Twilight and other popular books because of the social aspects (friend recommendations, movie tie-ins, etc), many more  have read and recommended non-best-sellers. If you take a look at the list of books my students think shouldn’t be missed, you’ll see many books that might not be familiar. But they are familiar to my students. Each of them was introduced to the class either by my booktalk, a personal recommendation to a particular student, or when a student found it in the library.

But how does a book become a social read?  How do we harness this power and repeat it over and over?  I took a few minute to look over my classroom surveys and tried to find an example of a social read in my classroom.  I found the perfect example.  One of the most popular student recommended books in my classroom for two years running is Cirque du Freak series .  

I read the first book in Darren Shan’s series a few years ago.  While well-written, it’s definitely not my kind of book.  However, it’s a great example of the horror genre and I booktalk it every year.  While I may not want to read the whole series, it’s the perfect book for a dormant reader.  

This year, I booktalked the series to the class as a whole.  One student raised his hand and requested to read my copy.  I handed it over and told him to let me know what he thought after reading it.  A few days later, that dormant reader was almost done the book and couldn’t stop talking to me about it.  I explained that I didn’t love the book but outlined my reasons why.  We not only had a great discussion about finding the right book for the right reader, but also about why he loved the book.  Within the week, he had moved onto the second book in the series.

While conferencing about his reading, I noticed a few of my other students listening in.  I decided to take a few minutes at the end of a class period to have the students share what they were reading and some brief thoughts, thinking it might spark an interest in a few other students.  My dormant reader did his own book talk for Cirque du Freak: A Living Nightmare and man, was he good!  He talked it up way better than I could have, because he genuinely loved the book. Before I could even take out the other copies I had, 5 hands were waving in the air. Students who struggled to find a book, students who abandoned books like it was nothing- all requesting to read Cirque du Freak: A Living Nightmare.

At first, I didn’t think much of it. I figured one or two of the students might finish the book, with the others moving on from the book as quickly as they moved on from other books they had attempted. I knew only a little about each student as a reader (it was very early in the year), and Darren Shan’s books didn’t seem like the right match for them.  The students all settled down that day with their copy of the book and began reading.

I did make one change to our reading time at that point. The boys reading Cirque du Freak: A Living Nightmare begged to sit near each other during reading time and I let them.  It was the best decision I could have made.  I watched as that group of boys expanded over the year, with new readers entering the fold every week and the original readers staying put, reading the rest of the books in the series.  They would quietly answer each other’s questions, discuss predictions, and jokingly cover their ears if someone who was ahead of them in the series began to talk about a spoiler.  It was amazing to watch.  The best part?  The only I did was provide the initial booktalk that hooked ONE dormant reader.  His enthusiasm spread to more readers, and then to more.  It was a domino effect.

Over the course of the year, Cirque du Freak became a best-seller in my classroom.  I fully attribute that to the students talking to each other about their books.  At the end of the year four of my students had finished the entire series, two moved on to reading The Demonata #1: Lord Loss: Book 1 in the Demonata series, and about 10 were at various points in the original series.  Why?  Because I allowed reading the books to be social.  They didn’t talk to each other during independent reading, other than to answer questions quietly, but they did talk about the books constantly.  The students carried their books around all day, competed with each other to see who made the best predictions and who read the series the fastest, and they constantly recommended the series to other students.  

Social reading is such a powerful concept and one of the best ways yo get students to enjoy books and reading.  How do we do that?

  • Start with teachers who are enthusiastic about books!
  • Booktalk, booktalk, booktalk.  Make your students aware of their choices.
  • Allow kids to be passionate about their book choices.  Maybe they don’t choose to read the books you think are “literary” or otherwise worthy, but they are reading.  And those books will be a gateway to more books.
  • Kids are social creatures by nature.  If they are talking about books, encourage it!  Give them an opportunity to talk about their books, but without doing a book report or graded booktalk.  Attaching these social opportunities to a graded assignment makes it a pressure-filled situation for the kids and they won’t enjoy it.  They’ll be too busy worrying about their own grade to listen to what anyone else has to say.
  • Cultivate those scenarios where kids are talking about books.  Whether it’s in the hallways, at lunch, or in your classroom- keep the conversation going!  Don’t talk down to your kids or pass judgement on their reading choices.  Just let them read!
  • Make sure books are available!  If they fall in love with a series, figure out a way to get copies of the books.  Let their parents know what they are reading, have the school librarian order more copies, scour garage sales, etc.  I also have my students make book donations at the end of the year, donating books to the classroom that they no longer need.  Needless to say, I now own more than my fair share of Darren Shan’s books.  😉  But do everything you can to make books available to your students!

Social reading is so very powerful.  It’s also so easy to grow in our classrooms and homes.  Kids are opinionated and they know what they like.  While they love to hear our ideas and recommendations (as long as they believe in us and know we aren’t being fake), they love to hear from their peers even more.  

When my students leave my classroom and move on to the middle school they express concern that they won’t have me to rely on anymore for books.  My response?  I’m just a crutch they are used to having.  Most of them are long past the days of relying solely on my booktalks and recommendations to choose their books.  I remind them that they will always be surrounded with peers and friends and classmates.  That’s a huge pool of resources just waiting to be tapped!  As long as everyone does their part, continuing to read and share their books, my students will always have books to read.  It’s a culture- a reading culture- and we need to start cultivating it in our schools!

Twenty Boy Summer Giveaway Winners!

Congratulations to the winners of the giveaway!  Using the Random Integer Generator, 5 comments were chosen!

The winners are….









Enjoy your copies of Twenty Boy Summer, everyone!




Thanks to Big Honcho Media for supplying the copies!

Mark Overmeyer Answers Your Questions about Assessment!

Today Mark Overmeyer, author of What Student Writing Teaches Us: Formative Assessment in the Writing Workshop stops by to answer your questions!

Do you have any suggestions on how to maintain balance with conventions and other areas of writing based on assessments? I know focusing too heavily on conventions will negatively affect their other areas of writing (even if they are already demonstrating strengths in the other areas), but I would also like for them to get a better grasp on the conventions expectations for 7th grade.

This is a very good, and important, question.

Yes, you are correct: it is true that focusing too heavily on conventions can negatively impact writing performance. Ironically, a complete focus on teaching grammar out of context can actually cause students to decrease their achievement in grammar and in writing quality.

More information about the research on grammar instruction can be found in several sources, including George Hillocks’ Teaching Writing As Reflective Practice: Integrating Theories and Constance Weaver’s Teaching Grammar in Context.
You are in luck, however.

There are two great resources that are practical and full of ideas you can implement right away: Mechanically Inclined: Building Grammar, Usage, and Style into Writer’s Workshop and Everyday Editing by Jeff Anderson. Jeff has created classroom-tested, grammar-in-context ideas for upper elementary, middle, and high school students. The best part? The lessons and ideas are organized so that you can easily access which skill you want students to work on (e.g., sentence fragment corrections, subject verb agreement, correct use of commas, correct use of capitalization, etc.).

I know many teachers who have used Jeff’s ideas, and I have used them myself. Jeff believes we can help our students to become better writers while they internalize conventions if we ask them to notice what is right about well crafted sentences. Instead of using sentence correction exercises, Jeff suggests we display well-written sentences that feature a skill we want students to work on, and then ask the students what they notice about the craft and the mechanics that make the sentence correct. It is an inquiry based approach to teaching grammar (rather than an error-correction approach), and it works.


I will be moving from 40-some odd students this year to close to 120 next year. What is your advice for managing writing assessment for a group this large? (in middle school).

This is such a challenge. You have so much to think about when you teach this many students, and it is so easy to become overwhelmed.

My first piece of advice is to carefully plan your instruction with some built in places for you to read short samples of student work for very specific purposes.
Let me try to explain what I mean by walking through a suggested framework based on a specific unit of study.

I will choose personal narrative as a genre study just because it is so common across grade levels. If this explanation does not provide enough specific suggestions for your context, do not hesitate to let me know and I will walk through a different genre.

When I teach any genre, I want to know first if student is able to make meaning in this genre. (I owe a tremendous debt to Carl Anderson and his book Assessing Writers for many of the ideas that follow).

So, if I want to know if students can make meaning in the genre of personal narrative, I will ask them to respond to a series of quick writes that require them to narrate and describe situations they have experienced:


  • Tell about a time you were afraid (or happy, or proud, or…)
  • Describe your favorite place (or food, or season, or holiday, or video game, or sport…)

These are just ideas- anything that you can use to motivate students to write for five or ten minutes will work. When you collect these short samples, you can begin to see if students can make meaning in this genre – we must narrate and describe (among other things) when we tell stories about our lives, so I want to know very early on if students can do the work of writers who create personal narratives.

I would also expose students early on to mentor texts representative of the genre study. The quick writes provide a kind of practice in the parts of the genre, while a study of mentor texts provides an opportunity to provide clarity about what students will be writing. For more specific guidance on using mentor texts in a genre study, see Katie Wood Ray’s Study Driven: A Framework for Planning Units of Study in the Writing Workshop, and for using mentor texts in nonfiction writing, see Dorfman and Cappelli’s Nonfiction Mentor Texts: Teaching Informational Writing Through Children’s Literature, K-8 – my new favorite book.

So the beginning of each unit involves quick writes, which can be assessed quite easily. I can also assess students as they study mentor texts, particularly if I ask them to try their hand at mimicking the crafts they notice in these texts.

These short writing pieces will be worth only a few points each, but they will allow me to predict the future success of the unit.

Students can begin to draft longer pieces as they develop an awareness of the features of the genre. You can develop a list of these features together based on what you notice as you read like writers.

As soon as students begin drafting, you are in great danger of becoming overwhelmed by the paper load. My advice is to read each draft for very specific purposes, and to ask students to revise drafts based on what you notice they need to work on. Keep a positive attitude by first admiring what they are doing well, and then looking for teaching points. When you discover teaching points all students can benefit from, then you have an idea for a mini lesson. When you discover teaching points a few students can benefit from, you have ideas for small group work or you have conference topics.

One typical reason I read early drafts is to just establish if students understand the structure or organization of the genre. In keeping with personal narrative example, I first read drafts to see if they can keep ideas focused while using a narrative flow. If they get stuck in describing every insignificant detail, I can work with them on keeping the narrative moving. If they jump from event to event and develop a list-like story, then I can work with them on slowing down the moment.

The last section of my book provides some more detail about this topic of reading student writing for singular purposes.

I hope this provides you with enough to think about… please let me know if it helps!

Visit the other stops on Mark’s blog tour:
June 23:
June 29:
July 1:

And, you can enter a contest!
Contest details
In his new book Mark discusses how a writing prompt that might seem limiting actually helps students focus their writing. He talks about a second-grade classroom where students were excited to write about the following topic: “Your baby brother is inside the house and you are locked out and need to figure out a way to get back in.”

Your challenge is to write a quick, piece in 500 words or less for that prompt. Mark will select the winner, who will receive a free, signed copy of What Student Writing Teaches Us: Formative Assessment in the Writing Workshop . Submit your entries by July 15 to The best entries will be posted on the Stenhouse blog and website.

“You HAVE to Read This!”

As one of the final activities on our final day of school, I had my students fill out “Recommend a Book” postcards for next year’s 6th graders.  I reminded them that on the first day of school they thought I was out of mind when I said they would read between 20-40 books over the course of the year and that they would enjoy it.  We talked about how they discovered the joys of reading books they liked, recommending books to each other, and learning about new books from their classmates.  

Each student chose one book that they feel all 6th graders must read.  Next year, I will make a bulletin board out of the postcards and share these recommendations with my new classes.  Sometimes, they don’t want to listen to me but will gladly hear recommendations from each other. 🙂

The books my students recommended:

  • Cirque du Freak: A Living Nightmare by Darren Shan because it is one of the best series ever. This book has spine-crunching twists and turns, a touch of action, and thrills.
  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins because it is action-packed and keeps you at the edge of your seat.
  • Fire Within by Chris D’lacey because it has action, adventure, mystery, and fantasy.
  • The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 1) by Rick Riordan because this books is really cool. It is interesting and makes you love mythology!
  • Twilight by Stephenie Meyer because it was the first book I read this year and after I read it I couldn’t stop reading!
  • Flying Solo by Ralph Fletcher because it’s a really funny book and you can relate to it.
  • A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass because it has such a great story and will change the way you look at the world.
  • Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt because it’s a good book. If you love mysteries you should read this!
  • Evermore (The Immortals) by Alyson Noel because it is an awesome romance. I give it 9 out of 10 stars.
  • Windcatcher by Avi because it is a great book. It has hidden treasure and a mystery.
  • The Diamonds by Ted Michael because it is a great book for all girls! It is a page-turner and full of gossip! An amazing book!
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney because it is really funny and makes me and other kids laugh out loud.
  • Oh. My. Gods. by Tera Lynn Childs. If you like Greek mythology, you’ll love this book! It has romance, comedy, and mythology. It’s a keeper!
  • Skeleton Creek by Patrick Carman. If you like creepy, this is beyond creepy. It is suspenseful and there are videos in-between. You watch the videos after reading a few pages.
  • Secrets of My Hollywood Life by Jen Calonita because this series tells you what it’s like to be a part of Hollywood. The books make you feel like you are in it!
  • Gone by Michael Grant. It’s a good cliffhanger book. If you like the dystopian genre it’s really good. The atmosphere makes you feel like you are right there in the book.
  • The Clique by Lisi Harrison because it is full of drama!
  • Flush by Carl Hiaasen because it is a great book and very interesting.
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7) by J.K. Rowling. You should read this books because it’s action-packed and a great read!
  • Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer. I think you should read this books because you feel like you’re there and it is very suspenseful I like books like that. I hope you do, too.
  • In the Serpent’s Coils (Hallowmere) by Tiffany Trent. It’s scary and it’s unexpected at times. It always makes you want to read more.
  • Found (The Missing, Book 1) by Margaret Peterson Haddix because it is suspenseful and ends on a great cliffhanger.
  • The Angel Experiment (Maximum Ride, Book 1) by James Patterson. It was my favorite book this year and the entire series is great!
  • Akiko on the Planet Smoo by Mark Crilly because it is a very funny book!
  • The Secret Language of Girls by Frances O’Roark Dowell. This book is good. There is a lot of drama and it is about two best friends going through hard times in middle school.
  • I,Q by Roland Smith. It’s full of action and adventure.
  • Boy Who Dared by Susan Campbell Bartoletti. This book was a really good Holocaust book. It is about a boy who was a Nazi then he betrayed the Nazis and ends up in jail.
  • Dork Diaries: Tales from a Not-So-Fabulous Life by Rachel Renee Russell. It was so funny! It is realistic and easy to relate to. It’s one of the best books I ever read!

There were a few repeats, which I left out.  But that’s quite a variety!

Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen

Along for the Ride is without a doubt my favorite Sarah Dessen book yet.  The main character, Auden, is one that I easily relate to.  Maybe it’s her sometimes lack of social skills or her dedication to academic achievements- either way, I felt like she was me at times.

Auden has never really seen anything wrong with the fact that she was an adult without ever experiencing a true childhood.  Her parents, both academics, have always treated her like an adult.  She never played kickball, ran around the neighborhood, or even rode a bike.  Sure, she had a few friends from her private school, but she mostly spent all of her time studying. What she doesn’t realize is that she has spent her whole life trying to prove something to her parents.

But when her parents divorce and her dad remarries, she begins to think maybe everything she did wasn’t enough. She stopped sleeping when her Dad moved out, and spends her insomniac nights at a local diner.  When her stepmother has a baby, Auden suddenly decides to throw away her summer plans and go stay with her father, stepmother, and new sister. Spending the summer in a small beach town, she suddenly has the opportunity to relive everything she never got to experience during her childhood- most importantly friendship and love. And when she realizes that she may only be a shell of what her parents want and nothing like what she, Auden wants, she learns that it’s never too late to grow up and be who you want to be.

This is the perfect book to read on a warm summer day.  Dessen has crafted a gorgeous story, with characters who are flawed like normal human beings.  Yet despite their flaws, they are all likeable.  I don’t know how she does it, but Dessen gets better and better with each book she writes!

Highly recommended for middle school and high school libraries.

(And at certain points in the story, you can see the love of a new mother beaming through the story, like a flashlight in a darkened room.  It’s an amazing testament to the love Sarah Dessen has for her young daughter.  I can’t help but wonder what it will be like for her daughter to someday read this book, thinking all the time that her mother had to have been using her own experiences as a new mother.  It’s gorgeous and will be a wonderful gift someday.)

Mark Overmeyer Answers Your Questions About Assessment

Right now, you can read What Student Writing Teaches Us: Formative Assessment in the Writing Workshop on the Stenhouse website for FREE! What a fantastic way to start the summer. Even better? Mark Overmeyer will be answering your questions here on June 25th! So get reading and come back to this post to ask Mark your questions about formative assessment.
Leave your questions in the comments here and I will get them to Mark.  He will post the answers to your questions here on June 25th!


(Don’t leave me hanging….I need some questions!)

The Clique Summer Collection Giveaway Winner!

Without further ado…..



drumroll please……



The winner of the The Clique Summer Collection  is Liza Lee!  


Congratulations, Liza!  You win a copy of all 5 books in the series!

The Clique: Summer Collection Series-

    • The Clique Summer Collection: Massie
    • The Clique Summer Collection: Dylan
    • The Clique Summer Collection: Alicia
    • The Clique Summer Collection: Kristen
    • The Clique Summer Collection: Claire