A fine site

Reading Engagement


Now it’s time for me to tell you about my first roundtable session! I first began looking at this session because of its amazingly awesome alliterative title: “Relevance, Relationships, and Reading Lives: Fostering Students’ Reading Engagement.” I just love alliteration, don’t you? What sealed the deal for me was seeing who would be presenting. Some of my classroom heroes including: Donalyn Miller, Katherine Sokolowski, and Colby Sharp!

I wasn’t the only one excited to see these amazing teachers, because soon the room had standing room only. As a result, the presenters decided that we could stay where we were and they would come to us!! Without further ado, my notes on reading engagement!

Donalyn Miller

  • To foster reading habits students need to be surrounded by books; complete immersion.
  • Students should be constantly reading, writing, and talking about reading and writing.
  • Teachers need to maintain high expectations for students’ reading and writing.
  • Demonstrations from a master reader and writer (the teacher!) greatly benefits students.
  • Students need to feel that they can be successful in the classroom.
  • We want our students to have a sense of self-efficacy, so that they can continue being avid readers and writers without the teacher’s guidance.
  • The ultimate goal is to create independent learners, readers, and writers.

Teri Lesesne

  • Include assignments that build a sense of community in your classroom.
  • Let students know who you are and your expectations.
  • Have students write reading autobiographies; sharing their past experiences with reading.
  • Utilize technology to connect students with authors and more books. Examples:,, and

Cindy Minnich

  • Identify what is in the student’s way of them being a reader.
  • Give students permission to take a break from homework to read for a while.
  • Have students plan where they want to be/what they want to achieve that year.

Kellee Moye

  • Students don’t want to read books that make them feel stupid. Find really good books that are at their reading level.
  • Teachers need to be readers if they want to encourage their students to be readers.
  • Build your classroom library!
  • Set the mood and talk about books on the very first day of school.
  • Students need time to read in class, at least 20 minutes every day is best.
  • Buddy Reading – 2 kids read the same book at the same time.

Katherine Sokolowski

  • “Conversations in the classroom should be like conversations at the dinner table” – Nancie Atwell.
  • Strive to have a conference with each student at least once every two weeks.
  • Give student a hook – a question that makes them keep reading to find the answer.
  • Watch book trailers, incorporate graphic novels and audiobooks.

Colby Sharp & Author Jennifer Holm

  • Skype with authors
  • Create memorable moments for students with books and authors.
  • Connect your students through Twitter.
  • Look for authors on book tour.



1 Comment »

The Time is Now: Workshop Classroom

After my first experience with a room packed with teachers, I was determined to get a good seat for my next session: “The Time is Now: Reflection, Assessment, and Teaching in a Workshop Classroom.”

the time is now

The workshop approach is one of the main ideas we have been learning about this semester in English Methods, so I was extremely excited to be hearing in person what teachers were doing in their classrooms. This session was presented by a 6th grade teacher and an administrator from a charter school in New York.

Both of the presenters had several bits of advice to share with their audience including:advice peanuts

“Have a clear plan/vision for the school year of what you want to achieve.”

“Practice reflection on the ways you are meeting the goals of your vision.”

“Observe other teachers, share strategies and ideas.”

“Treat the whole school as a learning community, not just your department.”

With all of the advice these two presenters were giving, there were also points made as to how they use the workshop model in their school. They incorporate books clubs, read-alouds, book talks, conferences, mini-lessons, and balance the reading of informational texts with reading fiction.

This increasing focus on informational texts is of course a result of the Common Core standards. I heard a lot of talk about the Common Core in many of my sessions and I appreciated the comments that the presenters of this session made on this topic. They emphasized that teachers can still teach what they love and in ways that they know work best for students, and still make these fit into the new structure of the Common Core.


And the workshop classroom is the way these educators believe their students learn best. Their students learn best when the teacher takes a step back and lets the students go. I was able to watch a video of their classroom. (Which was another piece of advice – videotape your teaching!) It was so inspiring to watch the students engage in a rich discussion about the current book they were reading without constant prompting from the teacher. The teacher was there as a guide and spent most of the time observing students.


I want to leave you with some final questions that were presented in this session:

“What do you find important to teach? Are you teaching it and how?”

“What are you rewarding in your classroom?”

“What will you do tomorrow to be better?”



1 Comment »

Letting Go of Control

OK I will admit it. I have a control issue. This is one area that I am going to need to work on in my classroom – letting my students take control of their own learning. Because of this fatal flaw I thought it would be a good idea to attend the session: “Letting Go: How to Give Your Kids Control Over Their Learning.”

The first valuable lesson that I learned was that NCTE sessions get packed, and they get packed FAST. But despite being cramped in a little room like a sardine, I managed to hear most of the presentation and come away with valuable ideas to help me in relinquishing control.

The teachers presenting in this session used an Inquiry-Based Learning approach in their classrooms. The students have choice of the texts they will read. They develop their own essential questions they want to answer and create their own plans as to how they want to answer those questions; as well as how they should share the information they have learned. What I found intriguing was that the students examined and identified what standards they would be meeting while completing their projects. I appreciated the fact that students were not just examining the Common Core Language Arts standards, but standards from other sources as well.


Each student has an individualized learning plan that they developed themselves. Students reflect on their learning several times throughout the process. These reflections give students a chance to not only examine the progress they are making towards meeting their goals, but it also gives them a chance to explore any challenges they have come across during the process. There is a focus on the affective domain as well as the cognitive. This learning process is guided by constant interaction with the teacher, with plenty of feedback to go along with it.

The class is also set up in workshop style, with the teacher presenting mini-lessons on research strategies and other helpful lessons to aid students in their learning. Back to the issue of control – the teacher has not read everything her students are reading. Doesn’t that sound a little scary? But the session presenters stated that this then allowed the students to become the teachers. They have become the experts on their topic and they are able to share their knowledge with an audience. And we all know that one of the best ways to learn something is by teaching it to someone else.

Man, this post is getting long, but there was so much information that I took away from this session! Some final tidbits that I would like to share include: teachers have conversations with the students about why they are using this inquiry-based approach; if students are required to read a certain text this approach still works, students then have choice of the supplementary materials they use in their research and still develop their own essential questions; these teachers also took an approach similar to literature circles, using inquiry circles so that students work together as a community to develop questions and projects.

Alright I will now wrap this up. This session gave me a better look at the process of Inquiry-Based Learning and how I could use this approach in my own classroom. I was able to see how much learning students can achieve when teachers are willing to let go of control.


Leave a comment »

We Are the Future of English

“We are the future of English” was one of the first phrases that really stuck out to me at my very first NCTE Convention. There are a lot of expectations wrapped up in that one phrase. I think it is telling us that we are always moving forward, always improving. It also fit very well with the theme of NCTE 13: “(Re)Inventing the Future of English.”


Then the First Wave performers took the stage and absolutely blew me away. They were amazing!!

The First Wave is a group of students from the University of Wisconsin. They are artists who write and choreograph their own performances and present through the mediums of spoken word and hip hop. To learn more about the group, visit this site:

These students had a powerful message to share with us that day. These were students that didn’t fit in the traditional mold that school was trying to make them fit into. These were students who felt their cultural identity was ignored in school. These were students who didn’t see any connections between what teachers thought they should learn and their own lives.

Why do we ignore these kids?

Why do we want our students to fit into a mold?

Listening to their performance made me do a lot of thinking about my own beliefs about how I want to teach English. How am I going to help my students discover and explore their own identities? Is what I will be teaching really going to help my students? How can I put my students in control of their own learning? In what ways can I acknowledge my students’ pasts, where they are right now, and where they want to be in the future?

welcome to the future

Listening to the First Wave performers was an amazing kick-off to what would be one of the best learning experiences of my life! More blogs to come about my stellar experience at NCTE 13!


Leave a comment »

Challenge Accepted

So we were challenged two weeks ago to finish a professional development book. At first I thought, “No way is that going to happen with everything else I have to do.” But I am here to report that just today I have finished reading “Mini-Lessons For Literature Circles” by Harvey Daniels and Nancy Steineke. The next book on my reading list is “Literature Circles: Voice and Choice in Book Clubs & Reading Groups” by Harvey Daniels. I might even start this book after I post this blog!

minilessons for lit circleslit circles

Thank you to Elisabeth who asked our college library to order these books and then checked them out for me to read!

“Mini-Lessons For Literature Circles” is full of exactly what it boasts … tons of mini-lessons! Daniels and Steineke are very committed to modeling student literature circles off of adult book clubs. By doing this, students are provided with real life reading experiences.

Before reading this book I had a very vague idea of what literature circles entailed. Now I have a vision of how I can incorporate literature circles in my classroom. The mini-lessons in this book cover three major, overlapping topics: the social skills necessary for effective discussions, strategies that help students understand texts, and the literary lenses smart readers use to examine and appreciate what they read. I feel armed and ready with these mini-lessons.

However, I am also excited to learn even more about literature circles, so I am off to read “Literature Circles: Voice and Choice in Book Clubs & Reading Groups” right now!!





Leave a comment »

When Kids Can’t Read – Read This Book!!

As I mentioned in my previous blog post I have been taking a class called “Reading and Writing in the Middle and Secondary Schools” and our text is “When Kids Can’t Read: What Teachers Can Do” by Kylene Beers. I have really enjoyed this book and so I wanted Beersto blog about it!

This book focuses on strategies to help struggling readers, and I mean really struggling readers. Readers who have a hard time picturing the story in their heads, who find it hard to make predictions about a story, and those who even struggle to sound out words.

Since I want to teach at the high school level I never thought that I would be faced with students reading at this level. This class has made it clear that this assumption was wrong. Although it is still crazy to me that some students can make it to high school while still reading at a third grade level, I now know of techniques I can try out in order to help these students.

At the beginning and end of each chapter Beers includes a letter to a previous student, George. Through these letters Beers shows us that in her beginning years of teaching she struggled to help the dependent readers in her class, but she has learned since then and she offers her valuable knowledge and experience in each chapter. She addresses ways to help students make inferences, pre-reading strategies, during-reading strategies, and after-reading strategies that aid students in gaining comprehension of different texts. Beers also shares activities to support reading fluency and valuable vocabulary exercises.

icebergThis is only the tip of the iceberg. “When Kids Can’t Read” is a book that I can see myself turning to again and again in the future. I highly recommend checking it out. I was also extremely excited to discover that Kylene Beers will be presenting at this year’s NCTE Conference!! You know what session I will be attending!


This was what my face looked like when I discovered the session with Kylene Beers … in kitty form!



Leave a comment »

Say What!?!

This semester I have been taking a course called “Reading and Writing in the Middle and Secondary Schools” and our text is “When Kids Can’t Read: What Teachers Can Do” by Kylene Beers. This book is amazing and will be the topic of my next blog, so on to the point of this blog.

I was recently (today) very frustrated with a question that a classmate had posted in our forum. This classmate is taking the course for their graduate studies and is a currently practicing teacher. The following is the forum post:say what


I never loved reading as a child it was always a chore to me and I will admit even as an adult I don’t read for pleasure near as much as I should.  I feel I am too busy reading what is required which is also how I felt as a child.  How do you instill in your students that love of books and reading so that they just want to read for pleasure?  Especially when this task is so much easier to accomplish with skilled readers than struggling ones.”


I had so much I wanted to say to this teacher, but how to say it in the right way? I wish that this teacher could have been in my English Methods class because then this teacher would have had several ideas as to how to encourage reading.

Ideas such as:

  •           Students need to see us (the teacher) reading for pleasure, that all important modeling.
  •           The more books we read, the more books we are able to recommend to our students.
  •           I believe we need to have a passion for reading and share this passion with students.
  •           We need to give our students choice in what they read.
  •           We have to give students significant amounts of time to read in our classes.
  •           These are only a few ideas, there are many other ideas.

My professor’s words are echoing in my head, “We make time for what we think is important.” The above teacher doesn’t read for pleasure very often and is too busy reading what is required. This makes me question how important this teacher considers reading to be. However, at the same time this teacher is in this class and is asking for ways to help students. Thank goodness!

The forum post also made me wonder – What would I have said to that teacher had I not been in English Methods class? I don’t even want to think about that in great detail, because I know that I would not have had all of these powerful ideas to share. I have learned so much this semester and I am becoming more and more excited to get out into the teaching world. I want to share these important ideas and practice what I preach with my students.

Finally, this cat knows what’s most important!



Leave a comment »

Be More Awesome!

Recently my amazing boyfriend Adam introduced me to this fantastic YouTube video and I shared it with my English methods class. But I don’t want to stop there. I want to share this video with the blogging world!! So check this video out!!

I find this video so inspiring!! It is time for all of us to be more awesome!! This makes me want to use hundreds of exclamation points!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Ok that’s enough for now …

In methods class we talk a lot about how to avoid burnout, and one of the ways is to stay away from those Negative Nancy’s. We know who they are. They lurk in the teacher’s lounge and spend their time grumbling about unruly students, school policies, and even each other. Most days I think we can easily avoid these people and keep our own grumbling and venting to a minimum. (Although I will say that sometimes venting is an absolute necessity.)

you are awesome

However, there is a much bigger threat. It is the Negative Nancy that exists in our heads. The voice telling yourself that you can’t. This is sometimes the hardest voice to shut out and something that I have struggled with a lot, something I am still struggling with. This video inspires me to turn off that voice telling me I can’t and turn on that voice telling me that I CAN AND WILL BE AWESOME!! That is my goal. I am going to work hard and learn hard to be more awesome, because I want to be an AWESOME teacher for my students.

And all of you guys out there? YOU CAN BE AWESOME TOO!!! Let’s all be awesome TOGETHER!!

Also, I just want to take a moment to give a shout-out to all of the lovely ladies in English methods!! Each and every one of you inspire me to “get my learn on” and become an amazing teacher. You offer me much needed support and guidance and I just want to say Thank You!!

thank you cat



[Insert Intriguing Title Here]

We were challenged this week to present 4 questions that we want answered by the end of the semester. My first question is where to begin? We have talked about a wide variety of topics in methods class and I have learned so much since the beginning of the school year. However, I still feel as though there is so much I have yet to learn. This is exciting as well as a touch nerve-wracking. Do I know enough? Will I be a good teacher? So many, many questions, but I have chosen the following 4 as the most mystifying.


Mystifying Question #1: How does one learn the art of time management?Better Be Prompt!

I’m really bad at estimating how much time different activities/lessons will take. How can I conquer this important skill? What are some tips and tricks for making the most out of the limited amount of class time I have with my students?


messy-desk-sipressMystifying Question #2: What information should I keep in my anecdotal records?

We here it time and time again – document everything. However, it has never been explicitly explained what information I should be documenting. Some things are a no-brainer. For example, if a student threatens another student, then I should document the incident and then report it to administration. However, what other types of information should I be sure to include in my records? How often should I be recording this information? These records should be kept purely objective, correct? Therefore, should I keep more personal notes reflecting on my own teaching and my students in a separate journal?


Mystifying Question #3: Cooperating teacher – friend or foe?good-news-bad-news-msps-256x3001

What are the dynamics between student teacher and cooperating teacher? In my mind, my cooperating teacher would be my mentor. I would like to be able to talk honestly and openly with them about teaching. However, I have also been warned to not reveal too much about my nervousness or worries; because, after all, my cooperating teacher is judging my performance in the classroom. So, to open up or keep quiet?

Mystifying Question #4: Should I join a teacher’s union?

I hear a lot of mixed messages about the unions. I hear that they can protect you in legal situations. I also hear a lot about the messy politics involved in giving your money to a union. Would it be a good idea to join or just a waste of money?




A Microphone, Highly Caffeinated Drinks, and Roald Dahl

These are the ingredients, when mixed together, make a great Wednesday night. The English Honors club, Sigma Tau Delta, hosts Open Mic nights at a local coffee house every other Wednesday evening. These Open Mic nights give students and members of the community the opportunity to share written works as well as their musical talents.

Because I have no musical talents whatsoever, I instead attempt to lighten everyone’s week with a bit of humor. At least that was my intention last Wednesday when I read the following poem by Roald Dahl. Let it just be known that if you have never read anything by Dahl, you need to stop reading this blog and go check him out immediately! His poems and stories are crazy and funny and an absolute delight.



“If you are old and have the shakes”

By Roald Dahl

If you are old and have the shakes,
If all your bones are full of aches,
If you can hardly walk at all,
If living drives you up the wall,
If you’re a grump and full of spite,
If you’re a human parasite,
Your eyes will shine, your hair will grow,
Your face and skin will start to glow,
Your rotten teeth will all drop out
And in their place new teeth will sprout.
Those rolls of fat around your hips
Will vanish, and your wrinkled lips
Will get so soft and rosy–pink
That all the boys will smile and wink
And whisper secretly that this
Is just the girl they want to kiss!
But wait! For that is not the most
Important thing of which to boast.
Good looks you’ll have, we’ve told you so,
But looks aren’t everything, you know.
Each pill, as well, to you will give
So come, old friends, and do what’s right!
Let’s make your lives as bright as bright!
Let’s take a dose of this delight!
This heavenly magic dynamite!
You can’t go wrong, you must go right!


smiley faces


Being a part of Open Mic nights is more than just a club member requirement. It is a chance for me to share some of my favorite works and authors with an audience. Plus, it is the perfect time for me to exercise my drama skills! Funny faces, goofy voices, and all … Let’s just say I get a little into it …

However, at the next Open Mic night I will boldly do what I have never done before … I will be sharing a piece of my own writing. Thanks to the wonderful and encouraging feedback from the stellar and oh so stylin’ ladies of English Methods, I will be unleashing “Trying to be Cool” to the world!!