Best Book I Have Not Read

Writing, Reading, Teaching, Life, Attempting to Balance it All

NCTE Reflections and more January 4, 2015

I’ve been wanting to write for what feels like forever, but time keeps running out. This evening, as my children work on their homework, my husband coaches basketball, and the dishwasher, washing machine, and dryer are all full and running, I’m choosing to write.

That also means I’m choosing NOT to: read, knit, walk the dogs, answer e-mails, sweep, etc… Doing, not doing, it’s always a choice.

NCTE was a wonderful learning opportunity. The sessions, the learning, the reading, the BOOKS, the former and new professional colleagues I met and talked with, all of it. Such a great way to recharge the professional battery. Exhausting, but so great.

Listening to my professional heroes, such as Lucy CalkinsHearing new (to me) amazing speakers such as:

  • Sonia Nazario

Have you read Enrique’s Journey? No? Go buy it NOW and start reading. The timeliness of the book in relation to the national conversation about immigration could not be more perfect.

  • Marian Wright Edelberg-Children’s Defense Fund

“America, we have work to do. Our children can’t wait any longer!”

“If teaching is not a calling and a mission for you, go do something else!”

“The U.S. Government spends 3x more money per prisoner than per pupil.”

Seeing my graduate school advisor Dr. Evie Freeman and THE amazing Rudine Sims Bishop from the wonderful Children’s Literature program at The Ohio State University.

Sitting next to someone with a name tag from the Ouagadougou–not only knowing where it is, how to pronounce it, but having hosted students in a WAIASL (West African International Activities School League) athletic meet when we lived in Dakar, Senegal. Had colleagues at ISD who used to work at the school he is currently working in Burkina Faso.

Passing a friend from high school-we edited the High School Literary Magazine together-on the escalator bright and early in the morning–he lives on the west coast and is a professor of education

Having the opportunity to talk with current graduate students from Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, while waiting in line for an autograph from Christopher Paul Curtis.


In the past all the ARCs (Advanced Review Copies) and books that I’ve gotten from NCTE I would try to read and post a review. I would then pass them onto to teachers to have in their classrooms. I LOVE BOOKS! I LOVE READING!


This time, I have set aside four or five that I have a chance of getting read in the next month or two prior to their publishing date. Those I hope to read and blog about. All the others I have separated by age group and have started delivering to classrooms in the very poor county I work in.

Tonight I came home and cried. I told my family about the first classroom’s reaction. There are only two teachers who teach reading at this grade level. This fall when I first walked in with some books that my son had out-grown, I became recognizable to the students. Not just some other adult who is in and out of their classroom and building. The second time when I delivered a bigger bag of books from a Facebook friend’s hand-me-down donation, I became somewhat of a rock star in their minds. As I find books, buy books at Half-price books and auctions, or have books donated to me, I put them in the classrooms of students, the majority of whom have very few books of their own. At the beginning of the year, students from multiple classes were sharing the same book with different bookmarks marking their spots. No one could take the book home since so many students were all wanting to read it.

A couple of the students helped me carry the books in for their classroom and I was instantly surrounded by the students, exclaiming over the books-showing each other, showing their teacher, authors, series or titles they recognized. Once I explained that some of the books were autographed to their class and others were advanced review copies which meant THEY HAD NOT EVEN BEEN PUBLISHED YET and that THEY HAD THEM BEFORE ANYONE ELSE DID IN THE COUNTRY and that THEIR REVIEWS WOULD BE HELPFUL, the excitement went up even another notch!

That’s not what made me teary. A student came up to me and asked “Is there any way you could get Rick Riordan’s autograph? I’ve read all his Percy Jackson books and now am reading….”. He was SO earnest.I turned around and another boy, in a huge over-sized man sweatshirt, slightly dirty, known- but not for his reading habits, just as eagerly asked if I could try to find some graphic novels. He went on to tell me how he loves graphic novels but there aren’t very many in the school and he has read them all already.

Such small things.

So, @ArneDuncan, #imagineif, the money that has been spent of assessments, PARCC, and privatizing public education, was spent on helping children out of poverty.


Lucy Calkins NCTE Notes December 12, 2011

Filed under: Calkins,Common Core,NCTE — bestbookihavenotread @ 6:26 am
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Harnessing the Power of the Common Core Standards Alongside the Engine of Reading and Writing Workshop Across the Curriculum, Grades 3–9 Lucy Calkins, Mary Ehrenworth; authors, Pathways to the Common Core (Spring 2012)

Calkins’ mini-lessons for student readers: “What you get out of reading will be different if you approach it like curmudgeons vs. approaching it like the text is gold.”

Same applies for the Common Core.

Complaints about the Common Core (the curmudgeon):

• It will lead people to “beat teachers up” at a time when they are already suffering; accuse them of not teaching what students “need”

• There’s no money for anything already, where is the money coming from for PD and cost-per-child for testing?

• ELA students are unequipped to meet these standards as set out

• Informational text and literature standards for reading are mirrored, which is unrealistic

• Who wrote these, anyway? “Written by committee,” and they’re continuing to write additions that have not been ratified yet (personal opinion pieces) but they appear to be part of the CCSS.

• End points are clear, but the methods of reaching them are not, and these personally-authored pieces are all over the place (but again, treated like part of the CCSS).

However: We have to look at CCSS and see hope and opportunity rather than despair. (Newark, NJ example about young mayor)

Positive things about CCSS (the “gold):

• It’s a “wake-up call” in a system that is “really, really late” in terms of quality of education. The average college grad reads one book a year – this in an age of informational overload. • Will help us offer the “rich curriculum” to all kids at a time when 80% of jobs require “high literacy skills”

• The practices of comprehension are so much more complex than they used to be (definition-wise); so is the practice of writing, and the standards reflect that.

• Streamlined – not “thousands of pages” long

• Each grade’s standards hold other grades accountable; “it takes a village” to teach literacy

• Gives a starting place to help develop kids’ skills. • Asks for kids to do complex work with independence

• Puts an emphasis on reading complex texts • Asks for teachers and principals to make big decisions

Mary Ehrenworth: Looking at the Common Core Reading Standards The reading standards:

• Ask for a high level of reading (text complexity), which is refreshing.

• Build on each other – you can’t do the later ones without the earlier ones.

• Ask “what does the text say, and how does it work”? (Note: This aligns exactly with Junior Great Books activities. Seriously. It’s asking kids to stay within the text and supply details from it.)

Mary walked us through the reading standards by asking us to apply them (using an example from Charlotte’s Web):

• Restate the text (restructuring)

• Determine central idea(s) (and give examples)

• Connect your new ideas back to the earlier ideas and see how they’ve developed

• Determine important and metaphorical words/phrases/language

• Think about structure (time)

• Think about point of view Recommended doing some of this work with colleagues to practice. Looking at the Writing Standards

• Divided by types of writing o Narrative: Personal, realistic fiction, historical fiction, memoir o Argument: Personal essay, persuasive essay, literary essay, research essay o Informational: Nonfiction articles, nonfiction books

• Think about whether your students are getting the opportunity to become good at writing these types of text, and what that kind of writing should look like across K–12 and across curriculum.
• Writing standards are cumulative; they build on each other. Take a piece of writing and see how it would develop across the grades based on the standards. (I was unclear whether she meant a student’s writing or an extant text; I think she means student writing.)

Calkins: How to Make the Common Core Work in Schools

• CCSS asks for institutional buy-in: Everyone agrees on working toward certain levels of ability, and it only works if everyone does it (at all levels and across disciplines) Also, CCSS calls for cross-curricular integration.

• CCSS asks for us to “lift the level of teaching and learning” (which is not new in terms of large-scale efforts, and most of those haven’t worked – see NCLB). It’s not just about standards; it’s a call for school reform. So we have to learn from our reform mistakes and not repeat them. • Most people’s reaction will be to read the CCSS and then add new programs and policies and initiatives to meet the core. However, CCSS is not calling for curricular compliance; it’s calling for an acceleration of student achievement (however that is accomplished). The best way to lift the level of achievement is not to add, it’s to see what strong stuff you already have that “gestures toward the common core” and do it more often with more focus and rigor. • You also need school buy-in to the strongest initiatives: A lot of teachers equate professionalism with autonomy, but to the outside world, professionalism is the opposite (relying on a body of knowledge bigger than yourself, and working well with others).

• To work in schools, the core needs to be “socially supported” in the school. Motivation is the holy grail of school reform. “Most people, when faced with the choice between ‘change’ or ‘die,’ will choose ‘die.’” The only way to motivate serious change is through the creation of support groups.

• Locate the good work being done, create communities in which to share the work, and share it. Groundbreaking Research Lucy Calkins cited Visible Learning by John Hattie: The factor that promotes achievement more than anything else is effective feedback:

• The learner needs a clear goal to work toward that is realistic but challenging.

• The teacher watches and gives feedback that is supportive (informational, not just praise “This is what you’re doing well”) and critical. • The teacher watches to see if the learner improves; this is the teacher’s feedback.

• Kids and teachers both need a clear sense of what it means to “do the work better” and how/where the progress is being made. CCSS lays that out.


What’s Up??!?! November 12, 2011

Filed under: ALAN,books,NCTE — bestbookihavenotread @ 5:40 pm
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Where do I start?

I could start with the pile of books that I bought last week at the middle school…

13 Gifts by Wendy Mass

Eleventh Plague by Jeff Hirsch (book commercial)

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

Al Capone Shines My Shoes by Gennifer Choldenko


Or how about a blog that is new to me that I am enjoying?

The Thinking Stick


Or how about the countless hours I’ve been spending finishing up elementary principal certification, due at the end of the month?


Or about all the rest of the hours I am putting in on tweaking my cover letter and resume as I apply to international schools around the world in my quest for a principal position?

Or the search for the bottom of the dirty laundry pile so I can pack for NCTE/ALAN-leaving Thursday

That’s mainly what’s up….


Central Ohio’s Got Talent! August 28, 2010

How exciting! A first successful week of school is under our belts and we have a get-together planned for  Central Ohio KidLit bloggers at our favorite indy children’s bookstore. Not only that, but the event ties in with a great author visit and a trip to a favorite eatery.

How could it get better? It’s hard, but today news came through the KidLit blog pipe that  Julie Johnson of Raising Readers and Writers won NCTE’s Donald H. Graves Award for Excellence in Teaching Writing! How does one find out they have won the award? With a phone call from none other than Katie Wood Ray!

Holy Cow!  I can’t even imagine answering the phone and hearing that southern drawl?

I first met Julie when I was fortuatnte enough to attend The Literacy Connection’s Carl Anderson visit 2 Aprils ago. Participants got to see Julie in action with Carl and her students in her Hilliard, Ohio classroom. A KidLit friend introduced us, it turned out she also had started a blog AND had taught with my former co-teacher in another life in another district. Small World!

Julie happens to be one of “them” that I refer to in my guest post over at Two Writing Teachers. If she happened to read that article, she probably didn’t know she was a “them” for me. Julie is one of “them” because she made the time for writing in her life both through the Central Ohio Writing Project AND her own classroom. She had a writing club! Ah…

One of her first posts on her blog was about the writing community her principal and fellow teachers were forming. Wow! The dedication…I still can dream of that day…

Congratulations Julie! What a deserving winner. May you continue to be an inspiration for people not just in your school, classroom, and community, but even further with the audience of your blog.


Holy Guacamole December 18, 2009

Filed under: authors — bestbookihavenotread @ 4:53 pm
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If you do not know who Skippyjon Jones is, you need to fix that before the holidays! I feel in love with that “rambunctious kitty boy” when he arrived in his first book in 2005. Look at this adorable Skippyjon Jones that Santa brought me! Wouldn’t he be perfect peeking out of a stocking?

There is no way a Siamese cat who thinks he is a chihuahua is NOT going to make you laugh.  His sisters, Mama June bug Jones, and his gang of Mexican Chihuahuas are also very fun and colorful characters.

It’s hard for me to say, but my favorite line might be from book 3 ,” Skippyjon Jones did his very best thinking outside of the box.” (complete with an illustration of him outside a litter box!)

I probably have already mentioned that I stood in line forever to get the author’s autograph at NCTE, only to have the line cut off with the lady in front of me. Grrr…

Nonetheless, it did not stop me from buying the newest Skippyjon Jones or laughing at the videos on his new website. Readers of all ages will be amused by his books. A great last minute book choice.


NCTE pics December 16, 2009

Filed under: authors,NCTE,Uncategorized — bestbookihavenotread @ 6:11 am
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Click to play this Smilebox collage: NCTE 2009
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Quick jottings of ALAN 2009 November 25, 2009

Filed under: ALAN,NCTE — bestbookihavenotread @ 8:35 am
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Amazing Authors I Couldn’t Believe I Got to Hear:

Gregory Maguire

Jeanette Walls

Authors I already loved:

Maggie Stiefvater

Laurence Yep

Mary Pearson

Rebecca Stead

Jacqueline Woodson

Todd Strasser

Authors whose books I had heard great things about,

but hadn’t had a chance to read:

Chris Crutcher

Patricia McCormck

Stephen Chbosky

Lauren Myracle

Adrian Fogelin

Sarah Dessen

Sara Zarr

Authors I just learned about and can hardly wait to read:

Matt de la Peña



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