Saturday, May 31, 2014

book obsession

ICYMI, we made a collaborative blog for the community at my elementary school. So far we have a few posts from a few different teachers, including one that was a Wordle of all the places you could read over the summer. One of our fifth grade classes came up with that, and it was a cool idea! I tagged it as "reading habits" and then I got to thinking about reading habits and reading rituals and that got me thinking about all of my bookshelves!

I love my bookshelves, especially when they are super organized. (I just fixed up my home book shelf before I did it's photo shoot!) Here it is:

This is from IKEA and it's survived move after move. I don't think it's going to make one more though, but I love it so much I'd buy it again.

Anyways, across the top I Have some of my favorite books - I was obsessed with Nicholas Sparks and used to read everything he would release. By the 10th book, it was the same story over and over again - set in the charm of the South by water with a love story that has some kind of terrible problem. But, loved them when I was into them! 

Then of course you see the Twilight books. Don't judge! Twilight was the first book I reread - I went through that series when I was doing my reading specialist certificate. Loved them...and I will always have a special place in my heart for those books!

Across the middle row I have lots of books about teaching and professional topics. I brought a few home from work that I need to revisit this summer. Then I have another favorite author, Jodi Picoult:

She's in the middle of that one - I had more of her stuff but took them to school when my eighth graders were nearing the end of our time together....The way she unexpectedly twists her stories will leave you like....whoa! Highly recommend her stuff- some of it is darker than others, but great stories.

Some of the other books in that stack I tried but didn't finish - like Anna Karenina and Wuthering Heights - I think I need to try again. The Promise of Stardust - don't remember the plot of that one but I remember it was super good. So how is that for a recommendation? :-)

Finally, most of my collection of my critical literacy books:

When I taught eighth grade, we always had our year-long theme be "You can change the world," which came from ideas from these titles. I'm hoping this summer to work on my units for the Social Justice Projects and publish them to TpT!

Well that's what is at home, along with assorted books laying all over the house:

At work, I have two more shelves - This one
 (also from IKEA) houses all my professional reads:

and this one holds all the picture books that Christine and I have:

This is some $20 book case that is on it's last leg, but it holds fiction on the top and NF on the bottom. When I was in grad school that's when the major book purchasing began happening. Here are a few of my favorites to teach with:

This one is about a rat who has a lisp and gets bullied. Then one day, his lisp comes to his aid as he (unintentionally) makes his school community better. This book is adorable and great for building community in your classroom!

Chato's Kitchen is a book about a low-riding gangster cat. I love this book because I totally do voices for the cat and the mice. Pretty sure there are some other books that feature Chato, too. 

I love Chewy Louie - it's a great text for an easily identified plot line. The dog chews up everything and the family goes through all these steps to help the dog stop chewing, including a singing therapist lady. Great book!

I've used Freedom Summer as part of my middle school Social Justice unit. Anyways this story is set in Mississippi in 1964 and is about two boys - one of which cannot do the same things as the other because of his race. It's a great way to open conversations about racism - in the past and current day!

So there you have it, all of my book cases! Do you feel any particular affection for yours? I'm sure you do, if you love books as much as I do!

Quick announcement: This summer on July 1st, I will be doing a PD for our district so teachers can get their own blogs going. I am going to hold a BigTime Blogging Challenge, too, with prompts for each of the days in July! I'm going to add this topic to the list, so get your ideas ready for July so you can link up with me! Of course, the purpose of blogging is to come up with your own ideas, so at any point throughout the challenge, you can always write about a different topic rather than the prompt, but just know I'll have a link-up every day of July. I hope you can join!

Have a great weekend! Only three days left of school for me (plus two of curriculum the week after!)

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

if I were still in the classroom: reading relationships

In a few weeks, the Literacy Coaches and teachers from around our district are going to be doing some summer curriculum work. In an effort to prepare for that, I've been busy reading Lucy Calkin's Curricular Plan for fifth grade. Today I came across reading partnerships and I so wish I knew about this when I had my own classroom!

If I still had my own classroom, I would totally build reading partnerships into my reading workshop. Reading partnerships are pairs of students who stick together (I'm envisioning a pair who would stick for a quarter of the school year at least) and talk about their Just Right books. You can build these pairs in various ways: by ability, interest, friendship, or mentor partnerships.

Ability Paired
The first way to create a pair would be by ability. If you choose to put kids together who are like ability, they are more apt to read the same kinds of books, and that would make discussions easy for them to have.
Interest Paired
Another way would be to create pairs by interest. If you know you have a few kids interested in the Percy Jackson series, for example, you'd put them together.
Friendship Paired
Or, you could pair students up by friendships - essentially let them choose one of their friends to pair up with. As you can guess, this might be kind of messy because you might worry that they would focus more on talking about their plans for the weekend than about the books they are reading, but when our kids move on to high school, they will rely on their friends to support them academically as they call one another for support at night. So, if you choose to go this route, you will want to teach them self-discipline and model exactly what the behaviors of an engaged pair would look like, sound like, and feel like. (Actually, you should do this for all the kids - regardless of how you pair them's just good teaching!)
Mentor Paired
Finally, you might have your partnerships built as mentor partnerships - where one student will mentor another along their road to independent reading. Lucy Calkins reminds us that books bring peole together, and in this case, that is so. You may even find that children who otherwise wouldn't have ever talked to one another become friends with one another - all because of books!

So, what I'm envisioning for my hypothetical upper elementary or middle school classroom would be kids matched up in one way or another and then as a Do Now or as a share time at the end of the class period, they would get to talk to their partner about their Just Right book. 

Lucy Calkins says, "Pretty much every single day a reader needs protected time for reading and protected time to talk to someone about what he or she has been reading, as well as what work he or she has been doing as a reader. That is, these partnership conversations are sometimes full of talk about what is happening in their books - all readers love to talk about the characters, places, and plots of their books, especially as the books get increasingly complex. You'd never deny readers this pleasure because it is intrinsic to reading. At the same time, you want your readers to be able to answer the question, What work are you doing as a reader? What are you investigating? And you want that answer to show that they are responding to your instruction, moving across what Normal Webb calls Depth of Knowledge levels, so that they move from recall to synthesis to analysis" (A curricular Plan for the Reading Workshop, Grade 5, 2011-2012, page 20).

See that part in red up there? This is so true! One of the girls in my RtI group has been carrying around her new Chicken Soup for the Preteen Soul book and every chance she gets with me she's reading an excerpt or telling me about another story in the book. This is a natural phenomenon with reading and if we create reading partners, it will help our kiddos engage more with the books they read. Additionally, we will have them add the content we teach in class to their conversations, moving them from just the general plot line, to application of our mini-lesson content within their conversations!

Your Turn:
Do you have reading partners in your classroom that talk about their books daily? What do you think of the idea? Is this something you'd be open to trying? Please share your experiences!

Happy Monday Tuesday!

Friday, May 23, 2014


Linking up with Doodlebugs for my week in review...and what a fab week it was! Stick around to check it out! :-)

Well, first, there's a great new song I downloaded this morning: Best Night Ever. It's by Gloriana and I listened to it about 25 times today. I'm sure I'm never going to want to hear it pretty soon, but for today, it's a win. It makes me want to stay up all night one summer evening and watch the sun come up at the lake. Buuuuuttt...I have a hard time not sleeping, so the jury is still out on whether or not that will happen!

I hit 200 followers on Bloglovin' this week! That's good, right, for a blog that isn't even a year old?

On July 1st, I'm going to be doing a PD in my district showing our teachers how to set up their own blogs, and I am thinking about creating a BigTime Blogging Challenge for July - I'll give a calendar out with prompts for the month, but the caveat will be if you have your own ideas, you can write about whatever you want, since that's the goal of the blog anyways....

I was also thinking about getting a subscription to inLinkz so everyone can link up with me. Who's down? Even if it's just me, that's cool. I can go out on a limb all by myself! :-)

200 followers - that warrants a cupcake, right?

I got to do some real coaching this week! I wrote about it earlier this week, so check that out here, but the cliffs notes version is that Christine and I gave a PD about mini-lessons a few weeks ago and then this week I went and saw them. They were awesome! and it was cool for me as a coach, to have a structured way to give feedback to teachers with a specific purpose. In case I haven't said it in the last 10 minutes: I love my job.

The parents in my district were asking for summer reading and some summer report homework. I was all for the summer reading list, but not all for the summer worksheets and packets and reports that make kids associate bad feelings with reading. So...I made the Emerson Community Collaborative Blog. Behold it's beauty:

Anyways, we've put up research on the Summer Slump, recommended reading lists, favorite books of our teachers and staff members, summer literacy activities, and a "how to submit" page so families can email their stories in and we can post on their behalf.

I presented it at the PTA meeting this week and I put it on our PTA facebook page - I'm hoping we get lots of posts! Only time will tell - I'll keep you posted!

This week, one of my tweets got retweeted like 12 times, including by the BATs and Karen Lewis. Here's said tweet:

I'm a first-timer to Twitter; I've only been on there since the IRC Conference which was a few months ago, and usually I only get retweeted by my school district (which I totally love and appreciate, Mona!). So, when you get retweeted by the president of the Chicago Teachers Union and the BATs, that's a pretty big deal!

If you're not on Twitter, you need to be. So much research and great articles just come to me via Twitter....this week it included a bunch of articles about summer reading that I used on our school's new collaborative blog.

That's all for this week. I hope yours was awesome! I'm now off to order my Erin Condren personalized notebook for next year. Have you heard about her stuff? Beautiful planners and notebooks - check her out!

Happy Friday!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

feeling extra 'coachy' this week!

This week has been great so far!

A few weeks ago, Christine, one of our reading specialists and I, presented to our staff: The Power of the Mini-Lesson. You can see our presentation here. We had let the teachers on our campus know that in a few weeks from that time, we would come around and give feedback about the mini-lessons.

Well that week is this week and I've loved watching our teachers execute awesome mini-lessons in as little as 9 minutes flat!

Last weekend, I made a feedback form that includes all the elements we are looking for:

So, this week, I've been seeing the third-fifth grade mini-lessons. With the help of Christine, we've given feedback to almost all of the teachers. We just use these forms to check off each part (or, in some cases use n/a if it wasn't applicable.)

Today I saw a 9 minute mini-lesson where the teacher modeled (she was on day 2 of the gradual release cycle) collecting notes from various sources and them finding similarities and differences among them. This particular third grade teacher, and her co-teacher, wears a tiara during the "I do" portion of gradual release, so all her kiddos know to listen as she demos.

Yesterday they read a picture book, When Marian Sang, and collected facts on sticky notes about the Marian Anderson's 1939 recital at the Lincoln Memorial. Then they watched the real life event and took more notes. Today, their teacher was modeling how she took notes from a blog on Marian Anderson. They collected all the notes on this anchor chart:

Notice how they did the sticky notes in pink yesterday and blue today. Then, after collecting all her notes, she modeled how we find similarities and differences from the three sources - that's where the two blue Post-Its are up at the top, because they repeat. Great way to reinforce the most important bits of information to collect on this event from history!

She set the kids off to take important notes from the books they read in Reading Workshop just like she did on these articles. Then, both co-teachers moved to guided reading groups where they facilitated the same discussions, but with books that were instructionally leveled to the students that they taught.

So, there you have it - 9 minutes of a mini-lesson modeling to third graders how to collect notes about text and then compare for similarities and differences. And all of this with a tiara on top!

I seriously have the best job!

Happy Wednesday!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

anecdotal, not scripted!

I keep hearing from people that Lucy Calkins Reading and Writing Workshop curriculum is scripted. To that I say, ""

I was teaching some grad students last week with my former principal. I was presenting on literacy and classroom management. Part of the management I talked about was giving feedback. I was explaining how I suggest "SIPping" kids: giving them feedback that is specific, informative, and positive. I then told the story of Katie, my best friend, and a boy in her first-year, 8th grade classroom.

Said boy, let's call him Kevin, was really into gangs and really not into school. Didn't engage much and probably had poor attendance.

One day in class students were working on some kind of group work and Kevin was sitting with his group. He was leaned way back, not really engaging. Katie let the groups get to work. She kept an eye on Kevin, and eventually, he sat up in his chair and leaned in to the other kids in his group. She went by him, very nonchalantly, and whispered to him, "Hey thanks for leaning in to hear better with your group. I can tell you're ready to begin working!" Then she slipped away.

Fast forward another 5-10 minutes, and he picked up his pencil. There he was, kinda just tapping it and not paying much attention, but Katie made note of this again, and made her way over there. Very softly, to Kevin only, she whispered, "Oh, great, you're ready to start contributing to to your group and taking notes! Keep it up!"

Around and around it went like this, with Kevin, and his behavior was transformed that day.

I share this example with you, because it helps illuminate the point I was making about feedback: SIP your students and you will reinforce the behaviors you want in your class. Had I not told the story, you may not have really noticed just how powerful providing feedback to students in this way could be. It was my story, my anecdote, that anchored the learning of SIP for you.

And so the same is for Lucy Calkins.

In her very first book, "Building a Reading Life" of the 3-5 grade curriculum, in her very first session outline, she writes,

"In this minilesson, you do not make reading into something small. Instead, you say, "My goal is for each of you to do nothing less than build a life in which reading matters." You say to children, "It is always, in life, my life, by me." You say, "Go to it." Then you give readers books, time, company - the three things readers need most - and you pull your chair alongside them to learn how you can help."

Lucy continues on the next page:

Tell children reading can be good or not so good, and we can make it good from now on.

"Readers," I said. "Could I have your eyes and your attention, please? I touched my eyes and then scanned the group as if collecting the children's attention. "I'll wait." I let the silence gather. "What I want to say is incredibly important, so I need your eyes and your ears.

"Readers, notice that we have gathered as a community in a special place - our library; we're surrounded by books. I want to talk with you about reading,  and about our lives. This will be a year when we all, everyone one of us, can make reading the best that it can be. We'll work on building our reading lives into exactly what we need them to be.

"I don't know each of you yet. I don't know the stories of you, Kobe, and you, Emma, as readers, or the rest of you. But I know that for me, there have been times in my life when reading as been the worst, the pits - when reading has made me feel frustrated and bored. There have also been times in my life when reading has been the best thing in the world. This year, we're going to work together to make our classroom a place where our reading is the best that it can be. I'm not sure what we'll need to do in order to do that - we'll have to decide how our time will go, how our library will go, how our conversations will go. I need your input, so you'll need to study how reading has gone for you, and how it could be better."

See, the thing is, Lucy could have just told you to make the connection with students about how sometimes reading is good, and sometimes it is bad. But, just like in my example about the feedback, she wanted to illuminate what she meant, and that's why she went on speaking about the times when it has been good and bad for her and about how, as a class, they are going to do Reading Workshop so that reading matters to each participant in the class. Her anecdotes illuminate what she means by her connection.

Her anecdotes. When it's your first year teaching with the workshop model (especially after coming off of teaching with a basal), let's just say it's not the easiest transition. Reading Workshop is messy - because in addition to looking to the curriculum to inform instruction, teachers have to look to the students.

When it's your first year using this method, you may not have your own anecdotes, because you've never taught in this way. That's why Calkins provides them for you in her curriculum. You use her anecdotes for now....but soon enough, you'll have your own! Then your workshop with authentically be yours, with all of your own stories of past readers and writers used to inform your instruction.

You'll be able to go to your file of essays that you saved to show the best and the worst of essay writing, and ask students to decide which is better and why. You'll tell the story of Andy, who it took you a year and a half to find 'that one book' that was the one to hook him on reading. As you teach summarizing, you'll show Heidi's notebook, that was basically Twilight rewritten, to explain to kids that when we summarize, we tell only the most important parts.

But until you have Andy and Heidi, and until you've saved the work of your former writers, you'll use the examples that Calkins provides.

Anecdotal, not scripted. If you just reframe your thinking, you might reframe how you perceive her curriculum, which is way different than a basal reader, with 10 questions at the end of a story, and a Teacher's Edition to tell you what to do in what order.

Before I go, my colleagues who inspired this blog post asked me, "Well, Michelle, what's the downfall of Calkins' curriculum? You know, it's always good to know both sides, right?"

I couldn't think of one. Do you have one? What is the downfall of Workshop and Lucy Calkins? I know there are a few of you out there who know some!

And, if you do love Calkins as much as I do, please share what you love best about her!

Happy Saturday!

Friday, May 16, 2014

five for friday

Happy Friday, friends! So glad you stopped by! I'm linking up with Doodle Bugs for Five for Friday today! Here's a random list things from this past week (and today!)

This week I did so many running records and comprehension conversations with kids about books to determine their spring levels. The best conversation:

Me: Did you like the end of the book?

R: Well, I'm kinda on the fence about it...

Made me laugh :-)

Same kid came up to me at recess yesterday to show me this:

Him: I'm going Bruce Lee style.
Me: Ohhh yeah....?
Him: For the record, these are clean socks.

I seriously love kids!

My trip to Europe with my best friend is *one month* away! (and it's my BFFs bday today - hbd, Heather!) I can't wait to see her when we meet in London! We'll spend 10 days in Europe and see Paris, Venice, and Rome, too. We are planning on getting a picture by the Eiffel Tower like this one:

Okay well maybe we won't jump that high, but you get the idea! Perhaps this one would be better:

Anyways, Europe: 1 month! Can't wait bff! :-)

The parents at our school have been asking for summer reading lists and summer reading assignments. I will *not* give kids reports, or worksheets, or dioramas (oh no!), but I will set up a collaborative blog to use with the families at our school! So that's what we're doing - setting up a blog, outfitting it with recommended reading for all grade levels, sharing teachers' favorite picture and chapter books, and asking parents, teachers, and studens to send in their stories from their summer reading and writing adventures!

You can find us at - but it's still a work in progress. I'm hoping to add the 'How to Submit' page and the 'Summer Slump' research this weekend. When we send home the reading reports for spring instructional levels, parents will get this link. I'm hoping to have enough stories sent in to post every day! Will report back and let you know how it goes!

On Wednesday, our Writing Core Facilitator presented to the staff about Writing Workshop. (Fabulous presentation, JB!) It was a follow-up conversation from two weeks ago when teachers were asked to plan and deliver a mini-lesson in the editing state of the writing process. Teachers brought their plans back and shared.

I ended up sitting with our amazing Bilingual teachers. They are learning about Workshop and Lucy Calkins and so they were asking me questions about it and we were just having the best conversation. This actually is prompting a new post that is coming soon about Lucy's curriculum being "scripted," as I've heard some teachers refer to it. I will be posting more on that soon. Thanks to J and G for stimulating the idea for my upcoming post! and PS - It's not scripted! 

I'm still so happy about my blog - I seriously just go on my computer just to look at it all the time! Do you also like my buttons for the countdown? Kassie made everything just to my specifications! Love the countdown numbers just as much as the new design!

Hope you have the best weekend!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

love letters...better than money!

Today I ran to the office to make a quick copy, and when I got there, Maria, our secretary, said, "Ms. Brezek, I have something for you!"

I replied, "Oh, is it money?" thinking that there was some outstanding reimbursement that the board still hadn't approved. (I actually think they do still owe me some money, but I clearly need to keep better records.)

"No, no," she said as she took some papers from a manilla envelope and handed me two essays by former students, and I thought, "Oh yes, it is that time of the year!"

See, after my eighth graders move on to the high school, they always have to write an essay at the end of their freshmen year about a teacher that impacted their education. Two years ago, I got a few, and this year, I got two more. I love this day - because these essays are much like the letters I used to write with students!

today's letters: a great blog to follow!

Before we blogged about our books, we wrote dialog letters. Students would be responsible for writing one letter a week to me - but all about reading and their books. Then, I would write a letter back to them about their books. Round and round we'd go over the course of the school year, having our own 1:1 conversations about books.

When I came to Heritage, these changed to blogs, but I still kept aspects of the letter writing. When seventh grade began, the first homework assignment was to write me a letter in response to a letter I wrote to students introducing myself. They would write back (on stationary that I provided them) and tell me about themselves. These would be filed into their writing portfolios as an On-Demand writing sample to look at at the end of the year for growth.

At the end of seventh grade, I wrote them another letter (one same letter that was copied for all students) and their last homework assignment was to write me back. I love these "love letters," as Nancy, a fabulous teacher who I got to work with called them. I would bind them into a book and save them:

Here's a letter I wrote to them at the end of seventh grade:

In eighth grade, we continued talking about books, writing blogs about books, and developing our thinking about experiences with them. At the end of eighth grade, I again, wrote each child a letter. This time though, every student got a hand-written, personal letter. They *loved* this, and even though it took ages, I loved doing it too, because then I got back the best love letters of all!

Here's one of my faves from the end of eighth grade last year:

So back to my main point about the freshman essays. This year, Lillian and Kirstin were the two girls who wrote about me. Here's Lilli:

Did you love how she said that I have a degree in Lit Studies? :-)

And Kirstin said...

Anyways, just wanted to share the highlight of my day with you all, and let these two special girls know just how important they are to me. Lillian, you remind me how important it is to *really* get to know someone before I pass judgment and that great relationships take time. And Kirstin, you are always so happy and so positive - I am not sure there is much that gets you down and I love that about you! Also, you remind me that it is great to try new things that might be outside my comfort zone! Thank you both for trusting me for the two short years we spent together, and I hope we are always just a phone call or a text away!

So...any of you do the letter writing, too? It's that time of the year, my first without my own class and I'm feeling kinda sad!

Please leave a comment with your version of the love letters, especially if you are someone who is out of the classroom now, like me!

Happy Wednesday!
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