Friday, December 11, 2015

Why Lunch Ladies are Heroes

First of all, huge thank you to Patti (our Media Specialist), Angie (our Art teacher), and Peggy (our manager in the Cafetorium) for putting this together!  It's an honor to work with individuals where minds begin racing, an idea can come together, and the constant focus is on the support we can offer to our students!

Not to get too nerdy, but remember when we were in undergrad and studied Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs?  Well, Jarrett Krosoczka touched upon this when he said "A child can't learn until their belly is full."

At our school, we went ahead and began celebrating our Food Service staff before School Lunch Hero Day (

Not only did we want to celebrate the hard work this team displays daily, but we also are always looking for ways to create a community of readers.

We have our bulletin boards up in the Cafetorium!

Additionally, we used the pictures below to tape inside the covers of our Lunch Lady Graphic Novels.  Now, we will continue to celebrate this wonderful team and the work they do to prepare our students for learning!!

If you are interested in reading any of the Lunch Lady Graphic Novels, please visit our Media Center....but you'll have to add your name to the waiting list!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Professional Reading

As the end of the school year approaches, many teachers look forward to the summer to reflect upon their practices, rejuvenate themselves, and read professional texts that may impact their instruction for the upcoming school year.  I've been fortunate to have had an opportunity to read quite a few powerful texts this year and have pre-ordered a couple more that I can't wait to dive into once they arrive!

Check out the options below (click on each to learn more) to find the title that may impact your instruction!

Recently Completed

 In Defense of Read Aloud

 In the Best Interest of Students

 No More Independent Reading Without Support

 Notebook Connections

 Reading in the Wild

 Text-Dependent Questions

Currently Reading

 59 Reasons to Write

To Be Read

 The Reading Strategies Book

 Revision Decisions

 The Unstoppable Writing Teacher

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Digging Into Writing Workshop: Demonstrate, Scaffold, and Release


Throughout this course, Digging Into Writing Workshop: Demonstrate, Scaffold, and Release, we will take an in-depth look at best practices writing instruction.  We will begin by using research to develop our writing philosophies and beliefs and then transition into the instructional framework that is Writing Workshop.  Learning about the architecture or organization of effective minilessons will help teachers incorporate a variety of instructional strategies through modeling. Collaboratively scoring student writing samples will allow writing instructors to determine how to best serve student small-group or individual conferences.  These conferences will allow teachers to differentiate instruction for students based on their learning profiles and the strategies they truly need.  We will also model a student-led closing that teachers can implement in order to develop metacognition and self-assessment skills, and ultimately empower students to build independence as writers.  We will address each of these components of the course all while building our Professional Learning Community and improving our practices as writing instructors.  We hope that you will join us in Digging Into Writing Workshop; Demonstrate, Scaffold, and Release.


K/1 - Andrea Moon
2/3 - Lori LeVan
4/5 - Tim O'Neill


Session One - 6/15/15 - Face-to-face at Smyrna Elementary (8:30 am - 12:30 pm)
Session Two - 6/22/15 - Online
Session Three - 6/29/15 - Online
Session Four - 7/7/15 - Face-to-face at Smyrna Elementary (8:30 am - 12:30 pm)
Session Five - 7/13/15 - Online
Course Completion - 7/20/15

Monday, May 4, 2015

Reading Graffiti

I was first introduced to Donalyn Miller's "Reading Graffiti" strategy to engage readers in The Book Whisperer but just recently finished Reading in the Wild, where it was mentioned once again.  As many of us have often witnessed, frequently our students are more comfortable providing an entire retelling of the book they are reading than they are sharing a summary.  This "Reading Graffiti" strategy encourages students to lift a quote from their book that encapsulates an idea that portrays the foundation of the story.  Not only will this benefit current readers, but this will most likely also become a place in the room where readers venture in order to be led to their next great book.

As with anything I expect of my readers and writers, I would want to try this first so that I can learn more about the strategy and so that I have a model to provide to them.  After reviewing my Reader's Notebook, I pulled a few quotes from some of my more memorable recent reads.  Check out the Padlet below and feel free to add graffiti of your own!

Friday, April 17, 2015

The Power of Graphic Novels

Last night marked the second successful Twitter chat of Book Club Cobb (#BCCobb).  One of the factors in selecting a text for discussion among #BCCobb is that it is hopefully something that is new or unfamiliar to the majority of readers and then I am also hoping that we can cover a variety of genres or formats as we learn more about children's literature.  I would call our most recent selection a memoir graphic novel (with memoir falling under the narrative genre and graphic novel identifying more of the format of the text).

Cece Bell's El Deafo was the topic of conversation yesterday.  Enjoy a couple videos below to learn more about her work.

I was so happy that this format of text was the topic of our conversation after hearing that a couple teachers had never read a graphic novel previously.  This format is incredibly engaging for students and provides tremendous support for "reluctant" readers (I put that in quotes because I'm not sure I believe in reluctant readers, but I definitely believe in NOT wanting to read the wrong book!).  That being said, we still need to teach students how to read a graphic novel.  Think of the jargon that exists when reading a graphic novel that does not exist within other various formats!  (Specifically, see pages three and four here)

Fortunately, graphic novels are being more widely recognized for their literary contributions...El Deafo even won a Newbery Honor Award just a few months ago!

Below, find a handful of graphic novels that are sure to be a hit with readers!

Think about bringing some of these (or others) graphic novels into your classroom today!  They're sure to find their way to the hands and hearts of your readers!!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Guest Blog - Best Friend Books

Over the years, I've been fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn from author and consultant (turned friend), Lester Laminack.  In leading a recent Writing Workshop course, I was able to share Lester's idea of "Best Friend Books" with participants.  Hannah Shead ran with the idea of pulling mentor texts into her writing minilessons and conferences!

Get to know Hannah.

I teach at a Title I school with a high English Language Learner (ELL) population and a very high transiency rate. My school is departmentalized, I teach reading and writing and my partner teaches math, science and social studies. My classrooms are both highly populated with ELL and students who qualify for Early Intervention Program (EIP). We follow the Workshop model for reading and writing blocks.

I am a third year teacher. This year has been my first year teaching fourth grade and so far I have not taught the same grade twice. Previously, I taught first and second grade. I graduated from Kennesaw State University in Early Childhood Education with an emphasis in Urban Education. I recently graduated with my Master’s in reading from the University of West Georgia.

What did your writing instruction look like previously?

Being departmentalized has really forced me to focus on reading and writing strategies. I decided to get my master’s in reading because I felt like it was an area of weakness for me as a teacher. Focusing on reading for the past year and a half has been great but sometimes I felt as though my writing instruction was falling by the way side. I love to write so I have struggled teaching students who feel completely opposite of that. Teaching such a high population of ELL has also altered my writing instruction because I find myself having to go backwards and teach more of the basic English grammar/concepts because of my classroom population. My instruction was lacking creativity and excitement because we were so focused on the “basics.” I was bored and so were my students. We were writing but lacked a real purpose for writing.

In the beginning, I really struggled with the editing process. I wanted their published pieces to be perfect and I was missing the point. My conferences were bogged down with too many strategies and take-aways, I was even writing on their papers (gasp!). My students were leaving my table with 5 sticky notes and 7 notes in the margins of their papers. They would go back to their seats and look down at their paper with no clue of what to do next. I was terrifying them of writing!

What changes did you implement?

Then one day I read a blog post (thanks Pinterest!) about writing instruction. All of the descriptions and photographs of the classroom and student work looked so happy and so calm. I thought back to my own classroom of papers flying, eraser dust everywhere and a light bulb came on; put the student’s writing down. Let them be owners of their work. I stress leadership and ownership in every other area of my classroom so it was time to do the same thing in writing. I started really using my writing conferencing notebook to keep myself and the students accountable for their writing. My notes were brief but gave me an idea of what we last discussed, what they are working on, their strengths as a writer, and what their writing goals were. I wrote in my notebook and not on the student’s papers. At the end of each conference, the student would write the goal we discussed in our conference on a label and stick it in the back of their notebook. As they worked independently, they had the label to refer to and at our next conference; they had a record of what their writing goals were. It has been a great way for both me and the students to stay accountable for what we are discussing in our conferences.

I also struggled with planning my mini-lessons. My mini-lessons were never “mini”. Just like my conferences, I was trying to cram in too much at one time. Instead of slowly building a writing piece, I was basically giving them a prompt and one week to finish it. There was no time to try new strategies because I had a deadline that had to be met. Writing became my least favorite part of the day, (and I am departmentalized so I was teaching it twice!) and I dreaded planning for writer’s workshop. I was exhausted after my goliath of a mini-lesson and my students were too. There was no passion, no excitement, I needed some help.

I began going to professional development opportunities, observing other classroom teachers, and experimenting in my own classroom. I found that when I gave my students more time to just write, they were starting to write amazing pieces! When I slowed things down and didn’t have such tight writing schedules, my students were actually trying multiple strategies and revising their pieces on their own. They were actually writing! Finally, I began to let go and gave my students more ownership of their writing. They were the ones doing the writing and I was just there to show them some new ideas to try and help them set goals. Now, writer’s workshop is actually a time of the day I looked forward to.

Tell us how you began using Best Friend Books.

Now that I figured out a conferencing method that was working in my classroom, it was time to focus on my instruction of writing, basically improving my mini-lessons. Thanks to a great writing class (thanks Tim!) I heard about “Best Friend Books.” I had of course heard of using mentor text to model writing but honestly, I was not implementing it. I was using this strategy in reading, but for some reason I just never carried it over to writing. We read books in writing but never looked closely at them to understand what strategies the author was using to keep our attention.

Right away I loved the idea of having a set of books that the students are familiar with and using them to model what great writers are doing in their pieces. These are books that I could read at the beginning of the year and refer back to all year.

Using mentor texts in writing has been really helpful and fun with my students. I started with Enemy Pie by Derek Munson. This was a book we read as a class in the beginning of the year and that my students were very familiar with. They love this book! We were reviewing narrative writing and this is such a fantastic book to use as a mentor text to model strong narrative writing. We re-read the book and talked about it as a class before I used it in writing. Then, in writer’s workshop, we used it to talk about elements of narrative writing as well as to model a strong narrative lead. Each day, we focused on a small section of the text and discussed how the author used a writing strategy, why he chose to use descriptive language, etc. I would then model a strategy to use based on the mentor text, then the students would practice on the carpet, discuss their ideas with a partner, and go to their writing places to write using the strategy. I would see the students going back to the book and discussing how they could use ideas from the text in their own writing. The students are excited about their pieces and cannot wait until our closings to have the opportunity to share their writing. I have never seen some of my students so motivated!

Using this mentor text in writing has made my planning and modeling so much easier! Everything I am looking for is in the text and I have plenty of examples to choose from. (My writing is improving as well because I am modeling after a stronger writer.) I am thrilled that I now know about best friend books. I can’t wait to use them for the remainder of this school year, and I am even more excited about using them on day one next year. I definitely think I found a BFF for life in mentor texts!

Hannah's Best Friend Books.

Fireflies by Julie Brinckloe
Use for modeling inferring, beginning, middle, and end, creating metal images, activating schema

Enemy Pie by Derek Munson
Use for modeling beginning, middle, and end, dialogue, heart, leads, setting

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen
Use for modeling beginning, middle, and end, details, endings, personal narratives, setting

Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes
Use for modeling cause and effect, characters, details

Diary of a Worm by Doreen Cronin
Use for modeling point of view, voice, and journal writing

Hannah, thank you so much for sharing how your writing instruction has grown! Your students will benefit greatly from closely studying the work of published authors and then implementing similar strategies to strengthen their own writing!

Readers, in the comments section, feel free to add strategies you could also teach using these texts or share some of your own Best Friend Books!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

#BCCobb - Lynda Mullaly Hunt's Fish in a Tree

Huge thank you to those that joined us this evening for our inaugural chat!  If you missed it, you can view a recap below.  (Note: You will not be able to view the #BCCobb Storify from CCSD's network, but will be able to see it from your home network!)

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Turning Authors Into Rock Stars

Not too long ago, when I was still in the classroom, I presented to local school and district coaches on Extending Student Thinking with Extended Texts.  We discussed the power of reading aloud to students, discussing a shared text with students, and most importantly, authentically modeling what readers do to be successful.

Throughout the presentation, I shared a few strategies my co-teacher and I had implemented to engage students in reading.  I STRONGLY believe the most powerful strategy to do this is for us to actually talk to our students about their reading.  That needs to be the foundation, but I shared a few other methods as well.  We had created Animoto videos at the end of each quarter to showcase students' favorite books (an example can be found here), but we had also shared our students work with the authors who's work they were enjoying (video of our students discussing books and pictures of the strategies they were implementing).

After the session, a mentor (and a very good friend) thanked me for my work and made the statement "You're turning authors into rock stars!"

Her comment has stayed with me since that time because 1) Authors are WAY cooler than rock stars and 2) Was that what we were doing?

After having some time to digest that statement, I think I am more comfortable with my understanding of it, but would would make a slight adjustment.  Yes, I do think that we helped our students look up to authors, but I would also make the claim that even more than turning authors into rock stars, we worked to turn authors into real people.

I must say that this was not very challenging work as authors are already real people.  However, our students do not often view authors this way.  Enter social media.

Thanks to Twitter, I am now able to hook students on books by letting them into the lives of the authors that write them.

While some of the fun tweets above showcase author personalities and allow students a glimpse into their lives outside of writing, it is also great to know that authors face some of the same struggles we all face as writers....

Over 20 rejections?  I'm so glad Kwame Alexander is persistent because as nice as those medals look on the cover of The Crossover, Josh and JB's story is even more powerful.

Social Media has allowed teachers to get to "know" authors so that we can tell a student reading Cynthia Lord's Half a Chance that her husband is a photographer or that Lynne Kelly's Chained was probably written because she is an animal lover (who I believe has a Cocker Spaniel) or that Lynda Mullaly Hunt (author of One for the Murphy's and Fish in a Tree) is attending a writing retreat in less than two weeks.

These conversations turn rock star authors into human beings with whom our students can relate; and in turn, transform our students into rock star readers and writers!


A few notes....

Many thanks to the authors who allow us into their lives.  Your influence is far-reaching!

Honorable mention went to the one and only Patricia Polacco who is currently remodeling her kitchen and also has a FANTASTIC video of her very own rendition of "Man of Constant Sorrow" on her Facebook page.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Book Club Cobb - #BCCobb

In my humble opinion, there is no better way to impact our students than to provide them access to incredible literature.  They deserve opportunities to reflect upon their lives, think about the decisions they may make when faced with certain circumstances, and determine who they may want to be as they continue to mature.  That being said, we, as teachers, need to be familiar with outstanding literature in order to pair students to the texts that may change their lives.  I've been fortunate to work directly (in the co-taught setting) with two teachers who are readers themselves, and therefore, know how to engage their readers.

Since Lynda Mullaly Hunt's new novel, Fish in a Tree, celebrated it's book birthday earlier this week, I have received a text from one of those teachers begging me to borrow my copy (more on that can be found here) and saw, through social media, that it is the other teacher's planned next read.

(this is why you are NOT borrowing THIS copy!)

While the three of us, over the years, have discussed numerous books, I would like to extend this to a slightly more formal conversation and see if we can have a greater impact throughout our community.

This is why I am proposing that we begin Book Club Cobb.  I foresee this as an opportunity for teachers across our (enormous) school district (and beyond) to learn about current, popular titles that are engaging for students.  This evening, I purchased two copies of Fish in a Tree, and while I would like to begin with this text, I would eventually like several choices within each conversation we share; so that yes, we are discussing the book, but we are also thinking about strategies we could teach from lifting various passages from the text and then also to be able to get to know an even greater amount of titles that we may share with students.

These two copies are beginning with very distinct destinations, but I expect that they will then be passed on to others who would be interested in participating in our #BCCobb chat on Thursday, March 12th, 2015 at 8 pm.  If you are interested, please join us.  If you would like to borrow a copy of the book, jump in line (please feel free to use the comments below to document your interest)...or find a copy at your local bookstore or library.

We look forward to the conversation and the opportunity to put exemplary literature into the hands of our students!

Friday, February 6, 2015

Guest Blog - Reading Instruction and Close Reading

Please welcome my former co-teacher, Leila Barber!  While Leila and I taught on the same 5th grade team for seven years, we spent just one year co-teaching together.  The transition was seamless due to Leila's genuine interest in her students, her professionalism, and her continuous desire to grow.  It has been said, and I strongly believe, that readers and writers make the best reading and writing teachers.  Leila is that teacher!

Get to know Leila.

I teach in a Title I school, located in Cobb County’s Area 1. Our population consists of a large volume of students who are involved in the early intervention program. We value achievement, integrity, creativity/innovation, and accountability. Our mission is “establishing an environment that fosters a love for learning” and our vision is “developing and empowering life-long learners”.

I am a 5th grade teacher and have taught in Cobb County for the past 7 years in this capacity. In all, I have been teaching for 14 years, a little in Florida and a few years in Virginia. With all of these experiences came the opportunity to earn additional degrees in Curriculum and Instruction (MAEd) and Reading (Ed.S.).

While teaching in Cobb, I have had a great opportunity to grow professionally through presenting at Teachers Leading Cobb Forward (TLCF), hosting a district-wide lab classroom, and facilitating additional teacher professional learning. 

Why is Close Reading important?

Reading closely is developing a set of critical thinking strategies that is transferrable to all genres of reading. Every single area of content, standard and layer of text utilizes some strategy of close reading whether it is understanding the purpose for reading, seeing the interconnectedness of text, developing systems of meaning, or to engage in a level where inquiry of text takes you beyond the surface. One of my favorite quotes, “Equally, move freely between analyzing texts, media and life.”  (p. 124) The dream is for student independence and where you lead (especially by modeling), the students will follow for the rest of their lives!” (Lehman and Roberts)

Why is Close Reading initially a challenge for students?

Students will often times try to tackle a task all at once, kind of like taking off for the finish line of a race without paying attention to the surroundings or the steps in order to get there. With close reading, students are taking a much different approach to reading. They are forced to slow down to pay attention to the structure, the word choice, the graphics, the nuances, the interpretation, point of view, audience, intention and many more higher level concepts. Each layer of comprehension digs into a deeper and more complex understanding of the reading piece. Students at first become quick to make an inference or look at surface level comprehension. It’s not until we practice peeling back the layers that they really appreciate the art of close reading. 

What instructional strategies have you implemented to better support students with Close Reading?

When I first began close reading, I started to look at the patterns of my readers and noticed that they could identify key details, but then seemed to stop at the first steps of analysis; observation. The wondering and inferential piece of investigating was happening like fireworks for some and others were a little less focused on the follow through.

I began to model close reading strategies by selecting primary sources that we had been looking at in class. I remember one of our first close reads was on “Bert the Turtle” in which students could identify physical characteristics of the picture. The next step took us beyond the visual and started leading us towards inquiry. “Why did the turtle wear a tie?”, “What did duck and cover mean?” The questions built more depth into the illustration that naturally led to students making connections and inferring the purpose for the poster and even who the intended audience would be.

Each week, we practice close reading strategies in various formats whether it is in independent reading text, extended reading, or content literacy. The opportunities are endless.

As the year progresses I begin to gradually release students to move into their own partnerships and groups to discuss with close reading strategies. One of my favorite strategies is the “write around”. This close reading requires students to choose a color of marker for their individualized writing. The group gathers together to ‘read’ the illustration, text or primary source. As they make observations, instead of talking, they write their ideas around the source. Students then step back, looking at what others have written and then either build off of each other’s work or ask questions. I usually let this happen naturally and when students have stopped writing, I encourage them to begin talking about the text. Now, students have more of a starting place….everyone has something to say or add!

The two largest professional learning texts that I have turned back to over time are Christopher Lehman and Kate Roberts, “Falling in Love with Close Reading” and Robert Probst and Kylene Beers, “Notice and Note Signposts”. With each of these, the building blocks for creating a close reading community are fostered through applicable strategies. 

What improvements have you seen after incorporating Close Reading strategies?

I have been so excited this year to see the level of thinking, reflecting, and talking that students want to do with close reading. Once we established our routine for close reading, students are eager to get started with this work and often crave the interaction with others about this piece. They respectfully agree and disagree with one another and are able to voice their opinion with confidence. Possibly the most powerful moment is seeing students refer to previously taught experiences, notes or even another text. They make connections to the text and let their backgrounds lift them to the next level of understanding, synthesizing. 

What is your plan moving forward?

Moving forward, I would like to build our close reading strategies in Science. I feel that this subject is often left out of literacy, but can definitely be used in this great work. Additionally, I would like to build a repertoire of primary sources, quotes and content literacy pieces to have a database to pull from when we are itching for our next close read. 

Take a look at some of the incredible examples Leila's 5th grade students are producing because of her high level of instruction combined with her strong belief in her students.  The work is challenging, but this is the depth and rigor with which our students must be exposed.  With proper modeling and support, students can do amazing work!  Thank you, Leila!  You make me proud to call you a co-worker and a friend!