Honored #sol14

I’m still on cloud nine and it’s late so this will be short and sweet.

Today I spent my Saturday at the New Jersey Council of Teachers of English annual conference at Montclair University. I heard author Jeff Hirsch speak, I met great colleagues from across the state, and I got to hang out with Chris and Michelle (my amazing colleague).

Why was Chris at an English teacher conference?

Because this happened:


Thanks to a nomination by Michelle I was named the NJCTE English Language Arts Teacher of the Year. Michelle gave a beautiful speech that included a letter from one of my seniors and I could barely keep it together.

I feel silly accepting an award like this because so many people make me the teacher I am today: my colleagues, my students, Chris, my family, my friends, my PLN, and so many others. So I share this award with all of them

Thank you. ;

My NCTE Reflections

It’s been almost a week since I flew home from NCTE and I’m still recovering. NCTE is the best conference I attend all year and it’s a must-not-miss for me. I am reinvigorated, excited, and passionate after meeting with my fellow English teachers and learning from them. This year was the best year of all, because I connected with so many of my Twitter pals and they enriched my conference experience.

Chris and I arrived on Friday afternoon, ready for dinner. Unfortunately, due to the 3 hours time difference, it was only lunch time. (Sidenote- by the time I got used to the time difference, it was time to go home. Can’t wait for NCTE Boston because it’s on the East coast!). Chris and I checked in to the MGM Signature and it was best hotel decision we could have made. The Signature is connected to the MGM Grand, the convention hotel, via moving walkway and it’s about a 5 minute walk. But the Signature has not casino, is quiet, and has it’s own Starbucks that didn’t have a line all weekend. So awesome!

After grabbing a quick lunch, I left Chris to rest and explore while I hit up the exhibit hall and planned the rest of my day. The Southwest flight we arrived on had wifi, so I had made dinner plans with the amazing Chris Lehman and a few other tweeps.  I wanted to get the lay of the land first, so I spent some time wandering the exhibit hall (and picking up books, of course).  Then, I headed to the Mexican restaurant in the hotel and shared a fabulous meal with Chris, Meeno Rami, Franki Sibberson, Jen Vincent, Alyson Beecher, John, and many more.  Fabulous conversation, of course.  It was wonderful to put faces (and voices!) to Tweeps after chatting on Twitter for so long.

Then, it was time for us all to head to the NerdyBookClub party.  Yes, we were some of the only people in Vegas partying it up in a suite where the conversation centered around books.  And it was awesome.

Donalyn addresses the wild Nerdy crowd.

If NCTE is made up of my people, the NerdyBookClub is my tribe.  A room full of introverts, noshing on brownies, talking about books.  I met so many wonderful folks and got to know many of them better.  A huge thank you to Donalyn, Colby, Cindy, and the entire Nerdy-dom for a fabulous, fabulous party.  (At this point, I have to admit that I did sneak off a few times to see if the National Board results were posted yet.  Once a nerd, always a nerd.  At one point, the website went down and I knew the results were being uploaded.  I couldn’t handle finding out the results in the middle of the party, so I headed back to my room.  Plus, my body thought it was 3am at this point!).

The nerdybookclub party!

Can we have a Nerdy conference?  Because the party was seriously awesome.  R.J. Palacio (Wonder) was there, Beck McDowell (This Is Not a Drill), and Jonathan Auxier (Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes).  Jonathan Auxier treated us to a booktalk about Peter Nimble and he did ridiculously awesome yo-yo tricks while talking.  He used to yo-yo professionally!  Needless to say, it was pretty much the best party I have ever been to.  So many Twitter friends were there, I made new friends, and we shared stories about books and connecting our students with books.

I headed back to my room around 3am EST and once I got back, I decided to check my National Board results one more time.  As my phone was loading the web page I was taking out my contacts.  I glanced over and freaked out when I saw that the website looked different.  I squinted, flailed around for my glasses, finally found them, and then read the magic words: “You are a National Board Certified Teacher”!  And that’s how I closed out my first night at NCTE.  Pretty darn awesome!

Saturday was devoted to lots of workshops.  I started the morning off bright and early in the sports betting area of the hotel, where Chris placed a bet on the Rutgers game.  Then, I headed to my first workshop while he settled in to watch the game in the comfy recliners.  My first session was about connecting high school English teachers and first-year compositional teachers.  The presenters were an AP English teacher, a first-year comp professor, and a mutual student. It was a great session and made me wish that more students presented at NCTE.  It was great hearing from all three stakeholders!  I was also happy to hear that college writing teachers do not ban the use of 1st person.  Instead, it’s about the students learning to make choices based on audience, tone, and voice.

After that session I rushed to the Folger Shakespeare session on assessment while teaching Shakespeare’s plays.  I had never made it to a Folger presentation before and I was impressed.  However, I did not get much out of the session that I hadn’t already learned from their fabulous professional books.  I ended up leaving a few minutes early because my phone was dying and needed a charge.

Then I spent some more time in the exhibit hall, where I chatted with lots of publishers and finally met up with Zsofia from Stenhouse.  Zsofia and I have been emailing for a few years and it was a pleasure to finally meet in person. She showed me a few upcoming books, which I will be posting about in the next few weeks.

Of course, I picked up a bunch of books for my classroom and waited on a few author signing lines.  Then I had a fabulous meeting before heading off to the NerdyBookClub session.  First of all, The Eagles (yes, those Eagles- the band) were in soundcheck right on the other side of the wall.  The NerdyBookClub really is made up of rockstars!  The session was awesome and the panelists traveled from table to table, presenting on a variety of topics.  Mindi made my day when she told us about Haikudeck, an amazing Ipad app for presentations.  But all of the presenters were great and I learned so much.  (I was tweeting so much that Chris had to bring my charger downstairs so I could recharge mid-workshop!).  Colby Sharp and Tony Keefer presented on their Nerdy Book Club, Jr. and reminded my how much I loved doing the Mock Newbery with my 6th graders.  I think it’s time for a mock Printz with my high schoolers.  I have ideas….

That night, Chris and I decided to see a little bit of Vegas.  We walked to the Bellagio and watched the fountain show, which was pretty cool.



Paris Hotel

You know what is not a good idea?  Walking to the Hard Rock Hotel from the Strip.  Everything in Vegas is much farther away than it appears.  Almost two miles later, through some very shady areas, we made it to the Hard Rock.  But we got our meal from the secret menu, so it was awesome.

The famous “Gambler’s Special” at the Hard Rock Hotel

Sunday morning started out bright and early with some Starbucks before Chris Lehman and Kate Roberts’ fabulous session on research and note-taking.  What a breath of fresh air!  I did my student teaching at a TCRWP school and have used lots of their strategies in middle school and high school.  However, it’s been a long time since I was in a room of TCRWP folks and this reminded me how much I love them.  Chris and Kate were amazing and I am still thinking about what they said. Below are some of my tweets from the session.

I had to leave the session early because I needed to get to the exhibit hall to see Eliot Schrefer and Matthew Quick.  I felt so bad leaving the session, but I had promised signed copies to some students (and I needed some for me!).  Thankfully, the session was tweeted all over so I was able to continue following the last few minutes.  And on my way to te exhibit hall I ran into Donalyn Miller and the Paul Hankins, two English idols of mine!  Donalyn is a friend, but I had never had the pleasure of meeting Paul in person until that moment.  Of course, I was also impatient to get to the signings, but luckily no one understands that more than Paul and Donalyn.  So we hugged and chatted before I ran off and made it just in time for my signings!

I spent the rest of Sunday networking in the exhibit hall before spending a fabulous lunch with lots of my tweeps.  I also made sure I was out of the exhibit hall before the publishers started giving away books they didn’t want to pack up and bring home.  My suitcase was already full!

Later that afternoon I spent a wonderful time with Kellie, of Walden Pond Press.  We talked about upcoming books, books in the classroom, and lots more.  Kellie is absolutely fabulous and I am looking forward to chatting with her more at the next conference.

Finally, I ended my conference by popping into the ALAN cocktail party.  Before entering, a bunch of us Nerdy Book Clubbers met up for a photo.  I LOVE this picture and I’m so grateful for this fabulous PLN that has enriched my life.

At the party, I chatted with Mike Mullin and probably scared Seth Rudetsky when I practically ran up to him.  What can I say?  I’m a huge Broadway fan and love all of his work!  I also said my goodbyes and made my way back to the room to pack my last few books.  Next year I am definitely attending ALAN!

Sunday night Chris and I went back out on the Strip and visited the Siren show at Treasure Island, the waterfall at the Wynn, and a few other landmarks.  We picked up a few souvenirs, packed our bags, and took a quick nap before checking out at 4am.  Our flight left right on time at 6am and made it home at 5pm EST.  It was an exhausting weekend but one I would not miss for the world.  I left Vegas feeling invigorated and brimming with ideas, both personal and professional.  I can’t wait to put some of them into action and I look forward to connecting with my PLN even more over the next year.

I guess it’s time to start working on my NCTE proposal for Boston?

National Board Certified Teacher!


As of 3am on November 17th, 2012, I am officially a National Board certified teacher!!!

#NCTE11 Day 2 Reflection

Day 2 of #ncte11 started bright and early, as I had made plans to have breakfast with Stacey from TwoWritingTeachers.  I was a little early for our meeting in the lobby and ended up running into Meeno, also meeting a friend for breakfast.  It was a perfect run-in because I was able to congratulate Meeno on her new status as a National Board Certified teacher!

Stacey and I grabbed breakfast in the hotel and we spent about an hour chatting about literacy, writing, and our families.  It was great to finally meet in-person!

After breakfast I hit the exhibit halls again, where I spent time talking with Ned Vizzini, Megan Mccafferty (who recognized me!), Neal Shusterman, and a variety of other authors.  I also chatted with Sarah, also known as VocabGal, at the Sadlier Oxford booth. She was a doll and chatting with her afforded me the opportunity to take a look at the new Vocabulary Workshop books, which we use in our district.  I was able to get some of our questions answered and look at a physical copy of the book.  I immediately emailed some of my colleagues to share my thoughts and we are looking forward to the new version, which we will be ordering for next year.

Saturday afternoon was spent in the exhibit hall and in downtown Chicago, where Chris and I visited the bean, a local cupcake shop, and a Millennium Park.  We skipped the aquarium, but we still had a great time.

Sunday night was fantastic.  I was invited to dinner with Little, Brown and I assumed it would be a huge crowd.  When I arrived a few minutes early, I ran into a lovely woman and her daughter who were also there for dinner.  Sharon introduced herself and took me under her wing, which I am extremely grateful for.  We spent some time chatting about our favorite books and the books my students are enjoying right now.  Sharon shared a few title recommendations for my students, which I have already added to my library.  We watched the ice skaters in Millennium Park until it was time for dinner.  When I walked into the small room at the restaurant I was stunned to see only three tables set up for dinner.  This was a small, intimate meal with some of my favorite authors!  Little, Brown had brought Sara Zarr, A.S. King, and Matthew Quick and they would be reading from their new books and rotating through the three tables.

What an amazing dinner!  It was so nice to talk with all three authors and I was able to bring back signed copies of all three books.  (I’ve already read and loved King’s Everybody Sees the Ants and Quick’s Boy21– look for reviews soon).  It was one of the best meals of my life.  And to make the night even better, I walked back to the hotel with Donalyn Miller, the amazing Book Whisperer.  Poor Donalyn walked eight blocks past her hotel because we were so deep in conversation about independent reading, the Common Core Standards, and our mutual love of helping kids learn to love reading.  Donalyn was recently named TCELA’s Teacher of the Year and it could not go to a more deserving teacher.  She is a force to be reckoned with and I am  lucky to have the opportunity to present with her and share teaching strategies and ideas.  It was a fantastic end to a great night, and an even better way to end the conference.  Monday would be spent at Midway Airport as I waited for my delayed plane to Newark, but I didn’t care.  I had books, friends, and lots to reflect on.

This past weekend I got a call for proposals in the mail for #NCTE12.  I’m already brainstorming ideas!  See you in a year, NCTE!

#NCTE11 Day 1 Reflections

I’ve been home from NCTE for a few days now and I am still decompressing and reflecting.  If you have the opportunity to attend NCTE’s annual convention you must go!  It is the most powerful professional development I have ever experienced.  Chicago was my second NCTE and I am already planning for the 2012 convention.  The PD is 24/7 at NCTE- whether at a session, in the exhibit hall, or just conversations over dinner.  In fact, those conversations were some of the best PD I’ve had in recent memory.  I had the opportunity to meet up with many of my Twitter friends and we talked about teaching, literacy, and so much more!

My convention officially started Saturday morning at 8am.  I woke up early to head over to the Palmer Hotel, where I was presenting with Donalyn Miller, Cindy Minnich, Colby Sharp, and Meeno Rami.  On my walk to the hotel, I passed the gorgeous Art Museum.

Once at the hotel, I finally met all of my co-presenters face-to-face.  I had sort of met Donalyn a few years ago at NCTE09, when she attended my session.  But this would be my first time meeting everyone else.  As I wandered the maze that was the 7th floor of the Palmer, I ran into Meeno, the amazing mind behind #engchat. She led me to the right room where I met everyone else.  We had put the presentation together via Googledocs and twitter and I think we were all a little nervous about how it would gel together.  Plus, with an 8am workshop, it’s hard to gauge how many people will show up.

Well, we ended up with a great crowd and the presention, “Pound for #: Twitter Hashtags for Professional Development and Literacy Initiatives” was AWESOME.  I am so lucky to have presented with such pros.  We discussed #engchat, #bookaday, #titletalk, #ARCsFloatOn, and the basics behind hashtags and archiving.  We also discussed community and met some of our favorite tweeters.  I had so much fun and the time just flew by.  We also had a back channel throughout the presentation (#4pound) with people both in and out of the room participating.  It was a fantastic resource and really kept the conversation going.

I also admit to doing some reading while my co-presenters were speaking.  Cindy had brought a stuffed rabbit with her and placed it on the projector while she was explaining how to archive. She it #teamrabbit, you see. I knew that lately everyone had been talking about this picture book by Jon Klassen called I Want My Hat Back. Teaching HS, I don’t buy a lot of picture books so I hadn’t had a chance to read it yet.  Lucky for me, Colby had brought his copy along and I borrowed it.  First of all, I am #teambear all the way.  But more importantly- BUY THIS BOOK.  I already purchased a copy and read it to my freshman.  I also plan to find a way to share it with my seniors (it only takes 5 minutes to read).  It is not for the faint of heart and probably not for all average picture book readers.  But it is my new favorite book. Get yourself a copy ASAP.

After finishing up our presentation, Meeno and I raced back to the Hilton to attend a session about Chicago as a setting.  The panel consisted of young adult authors John Green, David Levithan, Simone Elkeles, Jillian Larkin, and James Klise.  The panel was great and I learned a lot about setting, revision, and general research when writing books.  I took a lot of notes to share with my students, especially in reference to research.  But the most amazing moment came at the end.  John Green is a favorite of my students and also myself- his Looking for Alaska is the book responsible for bringing me back to YA literature.  I promised my students that if the opportunity to arose, I would tell John Green that my nerdfighters said “hi!”.  I made my way up to the panel and introduced myself to John Green.  He was super-nice and shook my hand.  He even said to tell my nerdfighters that he said hi.  Needless to say- thrilling!  I immediately updated our class Facebook page with the news and my kids were ecstatic.  So thanks, John!

After that, I went upstairs to my room to recharge my phone (a theme for the weekend) as I had been tweeting so much from the sessions.  After a brief rest I headed down to the exhibit hall and picked up some ARCs.  While down there I literally bumped into Jordan Sonnenblick, who I recognized from his Facebook profile picture.  (#authorstalker).  I introduced myself and we talked about some his books and how I used to read Drums, Girls, And Dangerous Pie aloud to my 6th graders, which led to a fantastic service project we put together for the children’s oncology hospital in a nearby town. Jordan was very gracious and let me know that he has YA novel coming out in the spring and I was able to snag myself an ARC at the Scholastic booth. I am so looking forward to read it!

I wandered around for a few hours downstairs, talking to vendors and jotting down notes for my colleagues. When I passed the Chronicle booth at one point, I recognized the wonderful Kate Messner signing her books. I stopped to introduce myself and we were finally able to meet. Kate and I have been to the same conferences in the past but our schedules have never allowed us to meet face-to-face. Needless to say, she is a sweetheart and I was thrilled we were able to take some time to talk.

After I finished up in the exhibit hall, I made my way to my last session of the day which focused on teaching The Canterbury Tales.  I love Chaucer but it can be hit or miss with my students.  The panel was fantastic as all of them had attended NEH’s summer experience in Canterbury.  They shared many of their ideas and the experiences they have in their own classrooms.  I took copious notes and walked out feeling re-invigorated about my choice to teach the tales.

That night, Chris and I spent some time in downtown Chicago.  I was determined to see the “bean” and I was not disappointed.  It’s gorgeous!

We also had our first experience with deep dish pizza, which was amaaaaazing.

At the end of the night, I took a picture of my stack-o’-books and uploaded it to my class Facebook page.  I wanted to make sure I stayed connected to my students even though I missed two days of school.  The Facebook page allowed me to do so, while also letting them know what I was doing at the conference.

Needless to say, I had a waiting list before I got back to my classroom!


Day 1 of NCTE was unbelievable.  I met some of my idols and listened to many of them share best practices from their own classrooms.  I learned about writing from some of the best in the business.  I spent time learning from my colleagues.  I loved presenting with my panel and I was able to spread the word about #ARCsFloatOn.  It was an amazing day.

Look for my day 2 reflection in the next  day or so!


Just popping to say that NCTE has been fabulous. Look for a summary later this week, after I have had time to digest everything and reflect.

Looking forward to next year in Las Vegas!!

#NCTE11, Here I Come!

The registration is paid, the hotel room is booked, and my presentation is ready!  I will be in Chicago for NCTE next month and I am very excited!  (No ALAN for me this year- Just wasn’t in the cards. 😦  But when the convention moves to DC and Boston in a few years?  I’m in!)

I will be presenting bright and early on Saturday morning, so come on out and see us!  I will be with Donalyn Miller, Meeno Rami, Cynthia Minnich, and Colby Sharp.  I am very excited about our panel.  I know it’s early, but come on out to see us!


Woohoo!  Today I received the email.  I admit, when NCTE tweeted that presentation invitations would be mailed this week, I was a little anxious.  I really want to present this November, as I was so disappointed when I couldn’t go to NCTE ’10.

Well, my anxiety has been relieved- I will be presenting at NCTE ’11 in Chicago this November!  Not only that, but I am presenting with an absolutely fabulous group: Paul W. Hankins, Donalyn Miller, Cindy Walthour Minnich, and Meenoo Rami.  Our presentation, POUND FOR #: TWITTER HASHTAGS FOSTER POWERFUL PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT AND FUEL LITERACY INITIATIVES is going to be fantastic.


Looking forward to NCTE ’11 in Chicago.  Will you be there?


I just want to take a moment and thank all of the awesome teachers who tweeted from NCTE 2010 this weekend.  I was able to follow many sessions and presentations via the great Twitter updates.  If you did not get a chance to follow, check out the hashtag #NCTE10 for the latest updates.  Sounds like it was an amazing conference and I am so sad I could not go this year- I am already planning for NCTE ’11 in Chicago.  (Formulating some presentation ideas right now…..proposals are due in January!)

I do have one complaint about the NCTE Convention, though.  Last year I presented and a lot of the presenters (myself included!) uploaded resources, Powerpoints, etc to the NCTE Ning.  I looked forward to the same thing happening this year.  While it is not the same as being at the presentations, obviously, it’s phenomenal to get resources from other teachers and to be introduced to new people through those resources.  This year I was dismayed to find out that NCTE had the presenters upload to their Connected Community.  I find the new Community to be frustratingly impossible to navigate as it leans towards Web 1.0 instead of 2.0.  The threads are all over the place, the division between topics is hard to distinguish, and the navigation is bizarre. But I was willing to work through the bumps in the road for the Convention materials.

Well, boy was I miffed when I clicked on the community entitled “2010 NCTE Annual Convention”  and got the following message:

Sorry you are not eligible to view the Digest

What?  Weird, I thought.  My membership was up for renewal on November 30th, so I assumed it was related to that.  Off I went to re-up my membership (and change my journal subscription from Voices in the Middle to English Journal!) Done and done, I tried the Connected Community again.  Still no go.  So I turned to my PLN on Twitter.  Apparently I was not the only one having this problem and we soon realized NCTE controls what every member sees on the community.  Apparently, only registered conference attendees have access to the convention digest on the community.  What?!  What happened to open access?  Think that maybe they are going in the opposite direction that teachers are steering their students in?

Thankfully, some presenters were upset by this, too- they posted their presentation materials on Slideshare, blogs, and even the old Ning.  But come on, NCTE!  Why are you segregating members based on the money they were able to spend in this economy?  I would love to have gone to NCTE but lost my job when I should have been planning the trip.  It just wasn’t a possibility.  Will I be there next year?  I sure hope so!  But you are alienating your members with your new “community”.  I have no plans to participate in the Connected Community thanks to this experience.  I get so much more out of the English Companion Ning and I will stick with that!

I am Mentioned in an NCTE Journal!

I am honored!  NCTE’s Voices from the Middle focuses on YA Literature this month and I have been perusing it bit by bit over the last few weeks.  Thanks to Mrs. V. for pointing out that I am actually mentioned in one of the articles!  I am honestly gobsmacked!  The article, Technology Toolkit: Making the Shift: YA Lit 2.0 by Sandy Hayes, lists great examples of the different aspects of children’s literature online.  My blog is listed under YA Lit 1.5 as the only example of a teacher blog about young adult literature featuring book reviews, interviews, and author news.  I am so, so, so excited!  😀