Saturday, September 17, 2016

Celebrating New Adventures and Accomplishments

Celebrate This Week was established by Ruth Ayres

So yeah, it's been a few months since I've posted here. This new gig as librarian is overwhelming to say the least. Not in a bad way, just in a way that you realize you're doing something new and have to get used to the learning curve.

But I have a couple things worth celebrating this week so I thought I'd dust off my lonely blog.

Yesterday I found out the exciting news that I was selected to serve on ALAN's Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award committee! I can't wait to get started! I've wanted to serve on this committee ever since I took a Prizing Children's Literature class in grad school and did a project on this award. I'd been an ALAN member for a few years but didn't know that much about this award until I did that project on it so it's really exciting that I finally get to serve on the committee.

My second celebration is that my husband and I finished all of our Couch to 5K workouts! We are officially runners now. And it just so happens that there's a 5K at the University of Michigan next month that we just signed up for. I can't wait!
After finishing our last C25K workout. We're runners now!

Saturday, July 16, 2016

That time I went to nErDcampMI and didn't take any pictures

*Cough Cough*

*Dusts off blog*

*Tap tap tap*

Is this thing on?

I haven't been blogging much lately. I'm not sure why. I just haven't been feeling a compulsion to write as of late. Even my writer's notebook has gone ignored since the school year let out.

But an event like nErDcampMI deserves to attempt to bring my blog back from obscurity into regular posting again.

For those of you who don't know, nErDcamp is a spinoff of the Edcamp model with a literacy focus. The name nErDcamp comes from Nerdy Book Club co-founder Colby Sharp who, along with his wife Alaina and a slew of Nerdy planners and volunteers, began the first nErDcamp in 2013. The first  nErDcamp was in Battle Creek, Michigan and had about 200-250 people in attendance. This year? Over 1000.

I was very low key at this year's nErDcamp. I didn't tweet much. I took like two pictures. It's not that I wasn't excited to be there. I've just been off my social media game lately.

So rather than write up a big long post about everything that happened at nErDcamp, here are some of my personal highlights:

  • When author/illustrator Deborah Freedman came up to me and said, "Are you Beth?" and then introduced herself. Woa. Crazy that authors know who I am.
  • Getting to hug Gae Polisner.
  • Chatting with Jess Keating about her upcoming picture books
  • Letting the tears flow freely during Raina Telgemeier's touching Nerd Talk about the boy she had a crush on in Smile who recently passed away.
  • When Kate DiCamillo made a surprise appearance (How on earth are they going to top THAT next year?) 
  • Pondering the mysteries of Cardboard Schu
  • Learning more about the ways I can use picture books with my 8th graders from Pernille Ripp 
  • When I ran into Jenni Holm and she gave me a huge hug and then told me to tell my husband she said hi. 
  • A session led by authors that talked about helping kids learn from their mistakes

If you've never been to nErDcamp and have been wanting to go, I highly recommend making the trip. Registration is completely free and you have an opportunity ot learn from teachers, librarians, authors, and illustrators from all over the country.

For more nErDcamp highlights, check out my Storify archive:

Saturday, June 11, 2016

One chapter ends and another begins

It's been a while since I've posted to my blog and even longer since I've written a celebration post.

But I have something big worth celebrating today.

At the end of this month I will be leaving my position with NCTE as their social media coordinator due to some reorganization that they have been doing recently.. It was a wonderful 3 years working for an organization that has sustained my teaching career, but it is definitely time to move on.

And move on I have. For the past two years, I have worked part time for NCTE and taught 8th grade English part time at my alma mater. I'm excited to say that next year I will be staying at my school, but as the K-8 librarian! I'm sad to be losing my English classes, but but I'm excited to use my passion and knowledge of children's and YA lit to spread book love all across our school.

Celebrate This Week was established by Ruth Ayres

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Links Worth Talking About 5-1-16

Links Worth Talking About is my weekly post of curated links about education, books, and apropos of nothing.

Once again it's been a few weeks since I've posted a "Links Worth Talking About." Moving into a new house and the swiftness at which the end of the school year seems to be approaching has left me feeling a little overwhelmed at the idea of writing and organizing blog posts. But I am procrastinating right now so what better time to actually sit down and write a blog post, right? :)

Will Richardson writes about the 9 Elephants in the (Class)Room that Should Unsettle Us.

John Green responds to Looking for Alaska being the most challenged book in the Country

And in this Vlogbrothers video, John Green makes the case for civil political discourse. Something we are sorely lacking these days.

And speaking of political discourse, check out this post I wrote on the NCTE blog reflecting on a recent #nctechat about this very topic.

And continuing in the political discourse theme, this poem by Jason Reynolds packs quite the punch and says more in fewer words than any op-ed or news article ever could 

I have recently been getting into podcasts (which is really cutting down on my audiobook listening time!) so I found this NYT article fascinating.

Like many others, I'm feeling some major Canada envy lately:
When It Comes to Diversity, Canada's Prime Minister Gets It

Last week as many people mourned the loss of an amazing artist and musician, I thought about how I never really felt a huge personal connection to Prince's music, but after his death, I realized what a genius he really was. These are two of my favorite shares from the outpouring of tributes that flooded social media:
Broadway's The Color Purple cast performs a beautiful tribute to Prince
Prince's amazing 2007 Superbowl performance in a downpour

And apropos of nothing...

Chopin is my favorite classical composer. So I loved this video of Beethoven's 5th Symphony reworked in the style of Chopin.

This made me laugh till I cried:
Boaty McBoatface inspires internet to rename animals 

And speaking of can't stop laughing, this NBA team changed their Kiss Cam to a Lion King Cam

Monday, April 11, 2016

Our native speakers are English language learners too

I have a new student this semester who recently moved here from Mexico. Both her spoken and written English are rather exceptional and she is an incredibly hard worker. Sometimes I forget that English is her second language when I read her writing. While reading her reflective letter for her Unfamiliar Genre Project, a transition at the beginning of one of her sentences immediately reminded me that English isn't her first language. The word was "firstable." I share this not to make fun, but to commend her for attempting to use a transition in the first place (something many students still struggle with). My guess is that she hears native speakers say "first of all" in rapid fire and therefore the words aren't enunciated when she hears them and so she interprets it as one word, "firstable."

It's easy for us to forgive this error because English is not her native language, but upon further reflection, why aren't we more forgiving with our native speaking students? English might be their first language, but they are still learning too -- and a difficult language at that -- one with more exceptions than rules. We have to remember that students aren't born with a rule book imprinted in their brains. They learn by making errors. We need to curb our frustrations when we come across them because if they're not making errors then they may as well not be learning.

When my husband and I lived in Germany, I was deathly afraid to make a mistake when I was learning the language because I didn't want people to laugh at me. So I understand how fragile minds can be when we project frustration and mockery on our students. And you know what that fear got me? An inability to become fluent in German. My husband was fearless and became fluent in 6 months.

So I want to ask you this question: Is our view of how pure and rule-abiding language should be preventing our students from even becoming fluent in their own native languages?  Do students see language as only an endless set of rules, and not as a means of communication, expression, maybe even innovation? Are we creating a classroom of fearful or fearless students?  

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Links Worth Talking About 4-10-16

Links Worth Talking About is my weekly post of curated links about education, books, and apropos of nothing.

It's been a while since I've posted to this blog. I thought finishing my master's degree would give me more time to write... but then I bought a new house and unpacking and home improvement projects have taken up a great deal of my time lately. So these links are some of my favorites from the past few weeks.

Do you know a middle school teacher who goes above and beyond? Nominate them for the NCTE  Outstanding Middle Level Educator in the English Language Arts Award. Deadline: May 1st

In March, NCTE hosted a Twitter chat about Everyday Advocacy which revolved around the idea of how we can advocate for our students and profession in small ways everyday. If you missed the chat, here is the Storify Archive.

Josh Funk is a generous, wonderful author. In this Nerdy Book Club post, he gives teachers his utmost love and praise. 

In honor of National Poetry Month, I wrote about 3 recent poetry books I am loving right now. 

Betsy Bird shares her early 2017 Caldecott and Newbery predictions 

Donalyn Miller shares the best books of 2016 (so far)

On Cult of Pedagogy, Jennifer Gonzalez tells the story of a school that increased its library use by 1,000 percent. Wow!

In another Cult of Pedagogy post, this one from 2014, Gonzalez explains why it's OK to leave spelling mistakes uncorrected (This post caused quite a stir).

Chris Boeskool shares this important post: When You're Accustomed to Privilege, Equality Feels Like Oppression

Some of these 49 phrases to calm an anxious child could work on adults too (I already shared this link with my husband)

When people hear that I teach middle school, most of the time their reaction is that of horror. I wouldn't want to teach any other age than teens. Why? Because my days are never boring.

Not a fan of reading classics but want to at least know what all the fuss is about? Here are Extremely Shortened Versions of Classic Books for Lazy People. :) 

Here are a few links to feed my recently discovered Hamilton obsession:
The sheet music for the musical is now available! I'm already practicing the title song on the piano.
Charlie Rose interviews Lin Manuel-Miranda
‘Hamilton’ Star Daveed Diggs on Being in the Room Where It Happens
'Hamilton Takes a Road Trip to the White House 
The New York Times Learning Network has some suggestions for using Hamilton in the classroom.

My husband and I lived in Germany for a few years and despite the fact that German will never be granted the World's Most Beautiful Language Award, we love the language just the same. I mean how can you not with words like these

And apropos of nothing other than my love of dogs:
LA just opened a dog cafe and I am insistent that we get one in Michigan!
Puppies invaded a retirement home, pre-school, and gym. Pure bliss ensued.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Links Worth Talking About 3-6-16

Links Worth Talking About is my weekly post of curated links about education, books, and apropos of nothing.

And let's start right off with apropos of nothing...

If we weren't laughing we'd all be crying, which is why Travis Jonker decided to make us laugh with this post: Donald Trump Reviews Children's Books

 Pernille Ripp shares an important post about looking beyond punishment when kids act out.

This week a fake New York Times article circulated saying that Senator Elizabeth Warren endorsed Bernie Sanders. Many people fell for it. So this was a really great opportunity to talk with my students about things like background information, context, (why does it matter that Elizabeth Warren apparently endorsed Sanders?), motivations (why would someone want to make a fake NYT article about Warren in the first place?) and why it's important to know your sources.

Are you coming to #nErDcampMI in July? This year they're putting out a call for day 1 proposals.

The articles against homework continue to pile up. Here's the most recent one. I particularly found this quote provocative: 

Homework does have an impact on young students, but it’s not a good one. A child just beginning school deserves the chance to develop a love of learning. Instead, homework at a young age causes many kids to turn against school, future homework and academic learning. 

Back in 2014, Jennifer Gonzalez wrote this wonderful blog post on Cult of Pedagogy about incorrect spelling and why we should allow kids to do it.

Another huge thing teachers need to keep in mind is what we are asking students to do all day: sit passively. Here's a Washington Post article that brings up this very issue.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Celebrate Getting Your Nerd On

My husband and I are currently between houses. We're still living in our old house, but we're doing work on the new house and will be completely moved in next weekend.

Gettin' my Nerd on at my new hometown library
Yesterday I changed the address on my driver's license. What's the first thing I did after that? Went and applied for a library card of course! I've been jonesin' to apply for a new library card because I often put stuff on hold that isn't available right away... so because we'll be moving soon, I haven't been putting anything on hold at my current library because I knew we'd be moved by the time it came in. Now that I have a home library again, all is right with the world.

And I am such a book nerd that after my husband and I applied for our library cards, I asked the librarian who was helping us to give us a tour -- because I plan on taking advantage of all that my my new library has to offer. So my husband was especially excited to see that our new library lets you check out "unusual items" like various tools for home improvement, crafting, and music -- even outdoor games like lawn chess, ping pong, and giant Jenga. And given that we're moving to a city that has significantly higher taxes than where we currently live, I definitely plan on taking advantage of all that my tax dollars are paying for. :)

Celebrate This Week was established by Ruth Ayres

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Links Worth Talking About 2-28-16

Links Worth Talking About is my weekly post of curated links about education, books, and apropos of nothing.

Speaking of apropos of nothing, yesterday I celebrated getting stuck in the snow since the first memory in our new house was getting stuck while trying to pull in the driveway for the first time.

Did you see the video of the 106-year-old woman who met the President and First Lady? If you didn't watch it, please do. It's sure to put a smile on your face.

Speaking of President Obama, the #ObamaAndKids hashtag that took Twitter by storm last week is an even bigger smile-inducing piece of clickbait.

Need more reasons to smile? How about kids reading to shelter dogs?  Or asking yourself what does the sloth say?

I found this article to be incredibly thought-provoking and discussion-worthy:
America loves women like Hillary Clinton -- as long as they're not asking for a promotion

This week Travis Jonker shared some covet-worthy books:
2016 Books from Caldecott Winners
2016 Books from Newbery Winners

One of my favorite authors had a book birthday this week. Natalie Lloyd's new book The Key to Extraordinary finally hit bookstores.

Lots of great resources were shared during last weekend's #nctechat about celebrating and supporting African American writers. Check out the archive.

Back in 2013 my friend Sarah Andersen wrote a blog post that responded to the many people who ask her why she's just not a librarian if she loves to read so much. She shared this post again this week and her words really resonated with me: 

"The reason this question bothers me isn’t because I don’t love and appreciate librarians (schools need librarians), but because it’s asked under the pretense that teachers, English teachers in particular, shouldn’t be so excited about reading and shouldn’t be reading so much. Maybe I’m wrong in that assumption, but the tone when the question is asked, especially at school, leaves me feeling like they think my passion for reading is misplaced. That it’s better suited for a library than in my classroom. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Shouldn’t the people asking that question wonder to themselves why they aren’t as excited about reading?"

Pernille Ripp started a fabulous hashtag this week: #1s1w, which stands for 1 School, 1 World. It is a way for students and teachers to see how schools around the world are alike and different.

I loved this Atlantic article about the wrong way to teach grammar. I was criticized by colleagues when I first began teaching because I was told my method of teaching was "new fangled" and that it was just a trend that would pass. Except for the fact that there's decades of  research that proves traditional grammar instruction is detrimental to student success in writing. So whenever I come across articles like this I always add another mental tally mark for proving my former colleagues wrong.

My friend Kaitlin Popielarz, a PhD student and social justice warrior, wrote a beautiful poem: Stepping into the Uncomfortable.  

As someone who grew up in this town, Brian Stone's Huffington Post article really resonated with me:
What If America Looked Like Dearborn, Michigan?

Given who is currently leading in the presidential race and the media's misplaced fascination with this person, we need to talk about why decency has suddenly fallen out of favor. Max  Lucado is making the case for decency for president

"We take note of the person who pays their debts. We appreciate the physician who takes time to listen. When the husband honors his wedding vows, when the teacher makes time for the struggling student, when the employee refuses to gossip about her co-worker, when the losing team congratulates the winning team, we can characterize their behavior with the word decent.

We appreciate decency. We applaud decency. We teach decency. We seek to develop decency. Decency matters, right?

Then why isn’t decency doing better in the presidential race?"

*Mic drop*

Friday, February 26, 2016

Celebrate Getting Stuck in the Snow

Here in Michigan, we had been expecting a big snow storm on Wednesday and Thursday. All week I have been dreading this snow storm because I knew we would be closing on our new house and was worried that the inclement weather would prevent it from happening. Not only did we close without incident, but the snowstorm ended up being a blessing in disguise for two reasons. 1) We had a snow day at school today so I could spend the rest of the day at the house helping my husband clean. 2) As we were inside cleaning the house I looked out our front window and noticed that our next door neighbors were shoveling our sidewalk and our neighbor across the street finished clearing the rest of our driveway with his snowblower. So not only did we get to meet our neighbors, but we quickly realized that we have AMAZING neighbors.

First memory in our new house: getting stuck in the snow trying to pull in the driveway. LOL!

Celebrate This Week was established by Ruth Ayres

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Links Worth Talking About 2-21-16

Links Worth Talking About is my weekly post of curated links about education, books, and apropos of nothing.

I'm looking forward to tonight's #nctechat on Twitter about the African American Read-In. I hope you'll join us at 8 PM ET.

On the Huffington post, Ali Owens discusses 4 problematic statements white people make about race -- and what to say instead. 

This week, thanks to the Grammy Awards, I finally got hip to why everyone is so obsessed with the musical Hamilton. You can now add me to the growing list of people who desperately want to get tickets to see the show. I am also obsessively searching YouTube for interviews with Hamilton's creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda because I just find him so fascinating. He's a musical genius yet so down to earth and amiable. Kanye could take a lesson or two from him.

On the Cult of Pedagogy blog, Jennifer Gonzalez has 5 questions to ask yourself about your unmotivated students.

As the research points to the importance of having school libraries with certified librarians, an advocacy group in Harlem is demanding school librarians. Yes!

Pernille Ripp reminds us of the importance of getting students' permission before we just assume they would want to share their work publicly.

I love the message of this commercial of Be together. Not the same. A message our elected officials certainly can't seem to get right these days.

As the circus that has become the 2016 presidential race sends me into fits of despair, one hashtag has helped to cheer me up this weekend: #obamaandkids. I really am going to miss him as our president. Whether you agree with his politics or not, you can't deny that he has led our country with respect, kindness, and dignity. He embodies what public service should be and what it so often is not.

And Apropos of nothing...

Speaking of the 2016 presidential circus,  I'm voting for Canada.

I love these relationship comics about finding beauty in mundane moments.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Links Worth Talking About 2-14-16

Links Worth Talking About is my weekly post of curated links about education, books, and apropos of nothing.

If you've been following the drama with the book A Birthday Cake for George Washington, then you know the plot thickened this week when the author spoke out in a rather contentious article on Huffington Post.

Pernille Ripp wrote an important post this week about when we harm rather than help students when it comes to reading interventions.

Penny Kittle, president of the Book Love foundation, recently started a new podcast about the importance of classroom libraries.

Important words from Paul Thomas: What do college professors want from incoming high school graduates?

An interesting take on lesson planning:
Reflection over prediction, or why we should write our lesson plans after the lesson

#nErDcampMI registration is now open. I hope to see you in Michigan in July for this free two days of professional learning.

And apropos of nothing...

Life goal: sloth hug

Friday, February 5, 2016

Making Research Relevant

The research paper.

It's the bane of every English teacher's existence.

Why? Because students are either forced to write about a topic that is irrelevant to them, or they are disengaged from the research because they don't understand the point of the assignment.

I have been teaching language arts for almost ten years. And every single year I have gotten it wrong. I fully admit that my students have left my class disengaged from the research process.

Until this year. I am determined to get it right this year.

Thanks to my wonderful adviser at Eastern Michigan University, Cathy Fleischer, and her writing partner Sarah Andrew-Vaughan, I have decided to have my students complete an Unfamiliar Genre Project as their research paper this year.

The Unfamiliar Genre Project takes the research process and turns the focus to writing, asking students to immerse themselves in a genre they're interested in, but not familiar with, and then to eventually write in that genre. 

I just introduced the UGP to my 8th graders this week and already I'm seeing way more engagement and motivation than any research project I've ever assigned. And what I've loved the most this week is hearing the conversation around the room as students talk about what genre they're going to choose and are bouncing ideas off of each other.

So this week I am celebrating making research relevant in my classroom. 
What makes the UGP such an engaging research project and something I'd encourage you to try is as follows:

1) It teaches students that writing is not one thing but multiple things, and one must study the conventions of a genre in order to write well in that genre. So when we tell students things like, "avoid passive voice" or "no first person allowed," we're doing them a disservice because different genres call for adherence to different conventions.
2) It puts the research focus on writing rather than some random topic that bears no significance to English class.
3) It empowers students by showing them that if they can develop the tools to write in one genre, then it's possible to do this for many genres. It's essentially taking the mystery out of writing for them.

If this sounds like something you'd love to learn more about, I highly recommend you check out Fleischer and Andrew-Vaughan's book Writing Outside Your Comfort Zone. I can't say enough about how much this project has changed the way I view not only teaching research but how I teach genre as well. It also made me realize the importance of having students study multiple mentor texts rather than just giving them one to emulate.

So if you're like me and you'd rather scratch your nails down a chalkboard than teach another group of disengaged students the tired old research paper, then I highly encourage you to give the Unfamiliar Genre Project a try.

Book info:
Writing Outside Your Comfort Zone: Helping Students Navigate Unfamiliar Genres by Cathy Fleischer and Sarah Andrew-Vaughan
Published: January 9, 2009
Publisher: Heinemann
Pages: 184
Disclosure: Purchased Copy

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Of pens and procrastination

This weekend, while I was supposed to be grading essays, I decided on a whim that my favorite pens needed to be in a separate container from the rest of the "common" pens. I mean, when I want to use one of my special pens, I can't waste precious time digging through the giant flower pot on the kitchen counter to find my perfectly smooth and liquidy (yet quick drying!) Pentel EnerGel pens. Now instead of a giant flower pot, my special pens are hanging out in a dainty little mason jar, easy to spot and grab at a moment's notice.

Because that needed to be done rightthisveryminute, don't you know? Those essays have been waiting all week. They can wait another 5 minutes. 

Do you have favorite pens? What are they? I want to know so I can try them out. Because even though I am fiercely loyal to my EnerGels, I am willing to entertain other options.

What are some of your infamous procrastination techniques? Besides unnecessarily organizing pens, I also like to:
  • play the piano
  • clean out the refrigerator
  • clean off my desk
  • go to the library because I JUST realized I had a bunch of books on hold that I need to pick up rightthisveryminute
  • go grocery shopping to replace all the food I threw away when I was cleaning out the refrigerator

Slice of Life is brought to you by Two Writing Teachers 

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Links Worth Talking About 1-31-16

Links Worth Talking About is my weekly post of curated links about education, books, and apropos of nothing.

This week I reviewed Tom Romano's latest book Write What Matters: For Yourself, For Others

Ricki Ginsberg makes a compelling case for why teachers and librarians need to lay off the lexiles.

I love Jenni Holm's Nerdy Book Club post this week: Back to (Board Book) Basics

Hank Green concurs with his brother John and discusses why the term millennial makes him cringe.

Danielle Davis shared a great post on All the Wonders: 12 Delightful Picture Books with Diverse Characters

Sometimes educational communities on Twitter are criticized for living inside their own little worlds and not responding to issues and problems as they are unfolding. They conduct their regularly scheduled chats with little to no recognition of the problems occurring in real time, causing them to appear somewhat tone deaf. This week, the #MichEd community focused their chat on the crises we are dealing with in Flint and Detroit. I was happy to see this educational community on Twitter rally in support and pose questions to try to move beyond simple Twitter activism.

Shannon Houghton shared this link with me this week and highlighted the Ignite session by Saraswati Noel about social justice in math class.  

Pernille Ripp shares how to make grades about students again.

The Michigan Daily, the University of Michigan's student newspaper, wrote this wonderful article about my favorite bookstore, Literati.

More discussion this week about A Birthday Cake for George Washington after furor of its overt racism caused Scholastic to pull the book from publication.

This week I found out that one of my favorite books of all time, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is getting a sequel!

And apropos of nothing...

Three people shared this link with me on Facebook this week. Because my friends on Facebook know that I am obsessed with sloths: Police Officers Rescue Sloth Trapped on Roadway

I am a huge figure skating fan. I have been ever since I was 14 years old and the whole Nancy/Tonya showdown of the 1994 Olympics. I finally got around to watching the U.S. National Championships on my DVR this week and I was completely spellbound by ice dancers Maia and Alex Shibutani. "Fix You" by Coldplay is my favorite song. So when I heard the first notes of the song, I worried that they wouldn't do it justice. Oh boy was I wrong. Not only did they interpret the music perfectly, but they created a moment and will now always be remembered for this performance.

Friday, January 29, 2016

A post about familial influences and as a result, a very biased book review

"So why do you want to write? For most people, living a good life and writing are not synonymous. In your case, however, they might be. Words call you. You aren't content to merely take note of life swirling around you and rising within you. You want to have a say about it, and talking isn't enough. Talking is evanescent. You want some permanency to your words."

 English teachers know the name Tom Romano as the author of many books about the craft of writing and most significantly as the face of the multigenre writing movement. He has inspired many teachers with his words and his teachings but long before he was inspiring future English teachers, he was inspiring me, a young impressionable child, not even a decade old yet. You see, Tom Romano is my uncle.

But even before I read every single one of his books, he was my writing role model from a very young child. He modeled a writing life for me and I am a writer today because of his influence.

I still remember the summer my family stayed with him and my Aunt Kathy when we moved to northern Kentucky (they live in southern Ohio, not far from Cincinnati). At the time, he was working on his very first book, Clearing the Way. I didn't know what a big deal this was until years later when I became a teacher and actually read the book for myself. But what I do remember from that time is that he would get up very early in the morning, hole himself up in his office, and write for hours.

He explained to me, a rather boisterous and opinionated 6-year-old, his strict rules about noise level and distractions in the house until a certain time of the morning. If I woke up before 11:00, even if it was 10:59, the mandate given by the resident author of the house was as follows: “No TV before 11:00!”

This became such a routine that I found myself, upon awakening every morning, walking down the hall, peeking my head in the doorway of his office and chiding him with an exasperated, “I know! No TV until 11:00!”
Reading with Uncle Tom as a wee one

But even if he weren't my uncle, it would be very hard not to be inspired by his words. Because for him, writing is life. It's not a pedantic set of rules and regulations one must follow in order to be considered talented or proficient. In his mind, in order to be a writer, one must write. Trust the gush. Revel in words and language. Write to elucidate your own thinking. It's as simple as that.

With Uncle Tom and Aunt Kathy at my recent graduation party
And so, as I suspected, Tom Romano's seventh book is just as inspiring as all of his others. Write What Matters has a somewhat different feel to it though. It has more of an imperative tone than his previous books, but it's done in a kindly way that compels one to write, not a condescending and sanctimonious way that will discourage young writers. *coughcoughThe Elements of Stylecoughcough* Romano comes across as the wise but gentle sage, ready to take on his young charge, not unlike say, a lovable and revered Mr. Miyagi or Obi-Wan Kenobi.

I especially appreciated the short chapters in Write What Matters, making them easily transformed into mini-lessons or quickwrites to share with students. I already know of quite a few chapters I will be sharing with my own students.  And as a self-proclaimed foodie, I will no doubt be using the "Make Me Taste It" chapter as a writing prompt in class. After all, one of the reasons I'm a such foodie to begin with is because I take pleasure in not only experiencing the flavors and textures of a perfectly executed dish, but also in describing those flavors and textures with language. I drive my husband a little bit crazy when we try a new restaurant because I spend just as much time describing my food as I do eating it.

So if you're looking for a book that will inspire your students (AND YOURSELF!) to pick up a pen or stare down the blinking cursor of a blank computer screen and say to it, "You don't scare me," you'd be hard pressed not to find inspiration in Write What Matters.

Write What Matters: For Yourself, For Others by Tom Romano
Published: October 20, 2015
Publisher: Zigzag Publishing
Pages: 158
Disclosure: Copy gifted to me by the author

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Links Worth Talking About 1-24-16

Links Worth Talking About is my weekly post of curated links about education, books, and apropos of nothing.

So this has been an interesting week in the world of Children's literature. Scholastic did something unprecedented. After only being in bookstores for a matter of days, they pulled the book A Birthday Cake for George Washington after furor of its overt racism. Lots of people seem to be weighing in on the topic without having actually read the book so rather than give my opinion, I just shared a link of someone who is more informed than I am.

Despite the unfortunate situation with a book being pulled from publication, this has been a rather prolific couple weeks in announcing children's literature book awards. In addition to the ALA Youth Media Awards, we also just learned the winners of:
Charlotte Zolotow (award for best picture book text)
Amelia Bloomer  (award for feminist literature from birth to age 18)
The inaugural Walter Award that was created by We Need Diverse Books 

Mr. Schu interviewed Newbery medalist Matt de la Peña this week and it was just as wonderful as you'd imagine.

This week I wrote a post about how a story in Elizabeth Gilbert's  Big Magic inspired my class to create a new mantra: Be the lobster.  

My friend Gary Anderson wrote this wonderful post about his top ten favorite interview questions for hiring English teachers. This post is so on point that the next time I have a job interview, I will ask these questions to myself and then answer them for the interviewers if they don't. :) 

I am a huge fan of the 826 organization that was founded by author Dave Eggers. We have one 826 location in Michigan, in my soon-to-be hometown of Ann Arbor, and I am elated to find out that Detroit will also be getting an 826 location.

This is an important article from the New York Times about Ivy League and other highly selective universities rethinking their admissions process.

Feeling burnt out? Pernille Ripp shares 12 ways she got her life back in balance as a teacher.

For those of my teacher friends who give their students choice and agency in their reading lives, you should be applauded. But Erica Beaton wonders what happens when we don't ask our students to push themselves and read hard things they wouldn't choose on their own. 

I need to put these words somewhere prominent as something to say the next time I have an anxiety attack.

This is an amazing TED talk by author Linda Sue Park: Can A Children's Book Change the World?
"In order to find yourself in a book you have to lose yourself in a book."

 Did you know you can order cards by beloved illustrators Jon Klassen and Christian Robinson? Check out Red Cap Cards.

And finally, if you haven't seen this parody of Adele's "Hello," but by a teacher wishing for a snow day, it's brilliant. 

Friday, January 22, 2016

Be the Lobster

I recently read the book Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert and was absolutely gobsmacked. The book is a paradigm shift in how we should approach creativity. Gilbert posits that we need to throw away the trope of the tormented artist in favor of lightness, curiosity and play in our creative work. She has definitely inspired me in how I will approach my writing life from this moment forward. 

To illustrate an important point in this book, Gilbert tells the story of an American artist who goes to Paris to be inspired. One day he finds himself at a cafe and meets some charming aristocrats. In the course of their conversation, they invite the American to a costume party at a castle in the Loire Valley. Being the starving artist that he was, he had to use his creativity and ingenuity to come up with a costume for the party. 

Upon his arrival, he immediately realized that he missed something in translation of the invitation: the costume party was a theme party -- a medieval court. Everyone was dressed in period gowns and were dripping with jewels. The young American came dressed as... a lobster, replete with red tights, a painted red face, and giant foam claws. 

At this moment, the young American had two choices: run away in shame, or stay and risk the torment of being the only one not dressed like everyone else. In that moment, he decided to descend the stairs and join the party. In so doing, he ended up being the life of the party and even danced with the queen of Belgium. 

I read this story to my students this week. They wrote about it in their writer's notebooks and we talked about it as a class. As I discussed this story with all three of my 8th grade classes, there was the inevitable suggestion that, "Hey! Let's all dress as lobsters for Halloween!" Or, "We should all go to homecoming dressed as lobsters next year!" As some students nodded their heads in assent or verbally expressed their enthusiasm, I immediately thought to myself that some of them had missed the point. 

So the next day, I brought in the picture book The Hueys in the New Sweater by Oliver Jeffers. This is a book about a group of people who are all the same. Until one day one of the Hueys decides to knit a sweater and be different than everyone else. At first the Hueys are horrified, but eventually the sweater catches on, and then this happens:

So now the new mantra in our classroom is BE THE LOBSTER. But let's make an important distincton here -- "be THE lobster." Not "be A lobster." When given the choice to be like everyone else dressed in gowns and jewels, walk down those stairs into the ball wearing your red tights and giant foam claws and dance with the queen of Belgium. Put yourself out there. Be vulnerable. Don't be like the Hueys. 

Celebrate This Week was established by Ruth Ayres

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Links Worth Talking About 1-17-16

Links Worth Talking About is my weekly post of curated links about education, books, and apropos of nothing.

 I hope you'll join us tonight at 8 PM ET on Twitter for the first #nctechat of 2016, hosted by members of the brand new NCTE Assembly on the Studies of Literacies and Multimedia (SLAM)

Speaking of #nctechat, remember that time Newbery Award-Winning author Matt de la Peña co-hosted the chat for Banned Books Week? I know I do. :)

I'm still so happy and thrilled about the news from earlier this week that Matt's book Last Stop on Market Street won the Newbery medal. After I heard the news, I read it to my students the next day without the pictures and asked them to write about what they thought made it distinguished. Many of them had trouble articulating just what made it distinguished, but even those who seemed a little dubious of this choice still could tell that there is something special about this book.

Caldecott medalist Sophie Blackall, illustrator of Finding Winnie, tries to put some of her feelings into words
 Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, author of the Newbery honor book The War That Saved My Life, talks about hope

Here's a great NPR interview with both the Newbery and Caldecott medalists. 

And Kevin English reminded me of this great video from last year's Caldecott medalist, Dan Santat, where he talks about his art influences. A wonderful mentor text to share with students to have them ponder their own artistic influences.

I found this Washington Post article fascinating:
The totes amazesh way millennials are changing the English language
I have a confesh: I am totes guilty of totesing. I approach language like a linguist, not a grammarian. I love studying (and participating in!) the ways in which culture causes language to evolve.

And speaking of millennials, John Green has some words for the adults in the room:
Stop patronizing young people and start listening
I've been saying this for a long time. You can either yell from your porch to "get off my lawn" or you can bother to listen to young people and seek to understand what they have going for them. If you hadn't noticed, all adolescents are self-absorbed. It's called being an adolescent. You were no different.

The book Quiet by Susan Cain changed my life. It made me realize that not only am I an introvert, This article really resonated with me because, yes, as an introvert, I abhor small talk. but that in a culture that only seems to embrace extroversion, it's time to find ways to value and nurture the introverts of the world.

An important article from the New York Times:
How Measurement Fails Doctors and Teachers

And apropos of nothing:
All the Times President Obama Lost His Chill Around Kids

Friday, January 15, 2016

Celebrate all the things

There are so many things to celebrate this week.

The first of which is that a picture book won the Newbery award! And it wasn't just any picture book. It was Matt de la Pena's picture book. Matt is one of the most amiable, generous, likable writers in the children's literature world so the fact that Last Stop on Market Street is a Newbery-winning book now, just makes my heart happy.  Matt co-hosted our Banned Books Week #nctechat back in September with current ALAN president Jennifer Buehler, so I had the opportunity to work with him on planning that chat and I can attest to what a committed and giving person he is despite his busy schedule. To see such a prestigious award granted to such a deserving person, I tip my hat to the Newbery committee. I love that we are changing and evolving in our understanding of what literacy is, what is literary, and what it means to be distinguished.

This is probably my favorite Tweet from the reactions of the day:


Back in October, I wrote a post about the need for change. That as much as I love that my husband and I have made a beautiful home in our condo, I am ready to move into a house of our own in a town that we love -- Ann Arbor, Michigan. The deal was that I had to finish grad school first.

The past couple of weeks have been a whirlwind. I graduated on December 19th. We were already meeting with a realtor on December 23rd. On January 2nd we went and looked at four houses. We fell in love with the first one we saw. On January 4th we put in an offer. It was accepted. We're closing at the end of February.
I said my One Little Word for 2016 was Do. I wasn't messing around.


I let my students listen to music when they're writing at the computer because for some it genuinely helps them concentrate (it totally distracts me, but to each his own). One of my students was listening to music Old School style this week. It totally cracked me up. I love when students do things to amuse me.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Links Worth Talking About 1-10-15

Links Worth Talking About is my weekly post of curated links about education, books, and apropos of nothing.

Today I am the guest poster on Nerdy Book Club: Top Ten Books that Colored My Whitewashed World.

Another post on Nerdy Book Club this week that inspired me: Schools That Read Together: Cultivating Reading Communities at the Secondary Level by Heather Rocco

I am so excited that Gene Luen Yang has been honored as the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature. Further proof that #ComicsAreRealReading.

Speaking of comics, Colby Sharp just informed me this week that Cece bell and Tom Angelberger are going to be guests at the Ann Arbor Comic Arts Festival (formerly known as Kids Read Comics) this summer! Woo hoo!

And speaking of authors coming to Michigan (I need to find some better segueways :-P), Ruta Sepetys is coming to Ann Arbor in February! My calendar is already marked! 

Are you watching the ALA Youth Media Awards webcast tomorrow? I know I am!   

Are you submitting a proposal for NCTE 2016 in Atlanta? Don't forget proposals are due this Wednesday. In this video Susan Houser and Jason Griffith give some proposal writing tips.

This post by Art Markman is important for teachers to read: 4 Things You Learned in School That Make You Less Creative

If you ever doubted the power of poetry, this poem by Matthew Olzmann about the gun control debate might change your mind: Letter Beginning with Two Lines by Czeslaw Milosz.

Speaking of gun control, this is a really powerful post about the need to sit beside our neighbors and get to know them rather than seeing everyone as suspicious and cause for carrying a gun.

As someone who only recently gave my anxiety a name, I am intrigued by this article:
The Secret to Making Anxiety Work in Your Favor

More reason not to lose hope in all humanity:
These 23 pictures prove that 2015 was not as sad as it seemed

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Links Worth Talking About 1-3-16

Links Worth Talking About is my weekly post of curated links about education, books, and apropos of nothing.

Every day since December 26th, the Nerdy Book Club has been announcing winners of their annual Nerdy Awards.Today was the last day of the Nerdy Award announcements and I'm honored to have been part of them. I wrote the review for the YA winner, The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds.

On my book blog, read my top 15 favorite books of 2015.

When I return back to school from Christmas break, I'm going to have my 8th graders write an analysis of their favorite choice to win the Caldecott Award that will be announced on January 11th. I love this post by Jessica Lifshitz about how she did a mock Caldecott unit with her 5th graders. Lots of great ideas to adapt to 8th grade.

Austin Kleon's weekly newsletter is one of the few weekly emails I receive that I actually read faithfully (that and NCTE's Inbox newsletter). I loved his recent post about the benefits of boredom.

As someone who has kept a journal since I was 11-years-old, I don't need convincing about the benefits of keeping a journal. But some of you reading this might, so here's 9 reasons why keeping a journal should be your only resolution this year.

If you're on Twitter and you're not following Shawna Coppola, do something about that right now. I think you'll especially want to after she blows your mind with this blog post: Four Stories That Homework Tells Children About School, Learning, & Life. (Spoiler alert: they're not positive stories).

I love this blog post by David Abrams about the best first lines of 2015. Definitely a mentor text to share with students.

My husband often makes fun of me for calling myself an introvert because whenever I go to conferences and get-togethers where I'm in the presence of my bookish and teacher friends, I'm anything but quiet. Which is why this article resonates with me: 10 signs you're an outgoing introvert

And apropos of nothing...

This is a pretty awesome mashup of the top hits of 2015 in 2 minutes.

I have never watched Jerry Seinfeld's Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, but since he recently interviewed President Obama, I thought I'd give it a gander. It was pretty funny.

As someone who has only seen the original Star Wars movies because of an essay I had to write in college and has no interest in seeing the new Star Wars movie, this made me crack up: Someone who never saw 'Star Wars' hilariously live-tweeted the original trilogy

"Two Words: Space Voldemort"

Friday, January 1, 2016

Celebrate One Little Word

I've never been a fan of New Year's resolutions. I get the importance and symbolism of new beginnings and setting goals, but I think resolutions fizzle out more often than not. So I was excited last year when I learned about One Little Word from Ruth Ayres. Rather than make a new year’s resolution I would likely break in a month, I decided to follow in others' footsteps and choose One Little Word to be my focus, motivation, and source of meditation throughout the year. For 2015 my word was Brave. That word served me well and was a nagging reminder to “dare disturb the universe” when it was easier to just stay safely silent.

This year, as I watched many in the public eye hide behind their “thoughts and prayers” while standing idly by, I have decided my One Little Word for 2016 will be Do.

Do what scares you.
Do what inspires you.
Do what you know is right.
Do YOU dare disturb the universe?