Friday, October 28, 2016

"Re-Visioning" the Dreaded Reading Log

If I were to rank the questions I get asked by teachers most frequently,  reading logs would be right at the top of the list. The topic of reading logs brings up strong opinions, both from teachers and parents. Educators whom I greatly admire have written posts questioning the authenticity of reading logs, rethinking reading logs as an at home assignment and alternatives to using a reading log. I agree with all they and others have written on this topic. I've used many of the ideas they mention in my own teaching practice. But before we "throw the baby out with the bath water", I would like to offer another perspective that I've been "writing" in the air of my thinking and conversations with others over the past few months.

When I first started teaching fourth grade, I used a reading log for keeping students accountable for reading both inside and  outside of school. Parents were asked to sign an at-home reading log to verify that their student actually did the reading. I even gave points that counted toward a reading grade. I cringe even as I type this! What I came to realize was that the voracious readers hated them. The striving readers didn’t fill them out. Parents signed them, often times on Friday morning while sitting in the drop off line. A parent signature didn’t always mean that the reading actually happened.  I was always chasing the missing logs. But the thing I realized most was that I was sending a very unintended message that reading was a school job.

As my understanding of best practice deepened and evolved, I reflected on this practice that, while well intended, was doing more harm than good. Readers who read for pleasure rarely, if ever, keep a daily, detailed account of their reading. Taking time to keep track of minutes or pages read did not encourage reading for enjoyment, nor was it improving reading skills. Rather, the opposite was happening. Reading was being viewed as a “chore”, something that was a school “job” and was devoid of enjoyment.

I knew that:

  • To become a reader, you have to actually devote time to reading. I believe that it’s important that time for independent reading be provided both at school and at home.

  • The most reliable data I could collect in regards to stamina, fluency, and reading growth was that which I could document while students were in school.

  • The single greatest factor in reading achievement is reading volume (Krashen, 2004) so I needed to have some formative way of documenting students’ reading volume.

  • When implemented as a way to ensure that students were reading at home, the mandatory, at-home reading log was not bringing the benefit initially expected.

I stopped using an at-home reading log, instead focusing on the reading time I could control at school. Students still kept a record of the books they read during the school year, but rather than minutes and pages, they kept track of title, author, genre, start/end date, and a simple rating. The shift that made the most impact in the value of the record was that I devoted time for students to reflect on their reading record, guiding them to notice how they were growing as a reader, and helping them set goals that expand their reading repertoire. During small group work and conferring I would guide students to identify patterns in genres, formats, and authors they had read to help them see how they were expanding their reading lives. By always referring to them, students came to value them, keep them up to date, and use them for goal setting, pushing  themselves to outgrow their selves as readers.

In my role as a Literacy Strategist, my teachers have been grappling with the same questions and struggles in regard to the dreaded reading log. As I’ve talked about my own experience over the past few years, I’ve come to understand that what made the shift for me was my reflection on the purpose of asking readers to record what they were reading. These conversations brought me to the realization that there are actually two different ways of asking students to keep track of their reading, but each serves a different purpose.  

log (n)
      an official, systematic documentation of an event, such as ship’s journey, or a diet plan kept for intervals of time

record (n)
      a list of items or events, written down over long periods of time, as a way to preserve for later reference/reflection

A reading log could be used in 1 to 2 week intervals at various points throughout the trimester for the purpose of assessing reading stamina. You might also consider a reading log at the beginning of a non-fiction unit of study, when stamina and volume are likely to decrease. The reading log allows for student reflection, analysis and goal setting. These logs would include students documenting pages & minutes read each day.

(Write whole title once per sheet, then abbreviate title to one word until book is complete or your start a new sheet)
Start Time
End Time
Total Minutes
Number of Pages

                                                                                Example provided by Molly Leding

A reading record would be used from the beginning of the school year (or beginning of new reading unit) for the purpose of documenting the books a student reads over the school year (or unit of study). A reading record is used for student reflection of authors and genres read, goal setting, and to assess volume.  The reading record would include title, author, genre, rating scale, and date finished.  

Screen Shot 2016-08-31 at 8.22.42 PM.png
From Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller

Will you still need to remind students to keep their reading log or reading record up date? My first response is “Yes, you probably will.” But my second response is a question. You wouldn’t stop reminding a child to brush their teeth or wash their hands or any of another 1,000,000 things we remind children to do on daily simply because they have yet to “see the value” in doing those things, would you?  I believe there is value to using these tools in the classroom. There are certainly digital options available for recording one's reading history. I have used them. But I would argue that those options are only viable if all students are provided access to them at school.

When we keep "purpose" in mind, and use the things we are asking children to do in authentic ways, they will engage. The key to these particular tools becoming useful to readers is that they are referred to consistently, both by the teacher and with the student, as a tool for reflection and goal setting.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

August 10 for 10 2016~#pb10for10

*cue music* It's the most wonderful time of the year! There'll be lots of list making and lots of book buying for sure! It's the most wonderful time of the year!

Seven years of #pb10for10! Wow! Today is a day I look forward to every year. I have my public library account open and my reader's notebook and pen close at hand.  I'm always inspired by the thinking that each person puts into their list of 10 picture books. 

Today I'm sharing some picture book titles that lend themselves to argument and debate work in grades K-5.  For each book, I've included a possible debate question you could use, but please know these aren't the only debatable questions you could use. I've organized the books in a grade span sequence with level of the debate question increasing across a progression. 

In today's world we need people who can think for themselves,  who read to be informed so that they truly understand an issue before having an opinion, and who can work for change when needed more than ever before. Embedding argument & debate into all content areas benefits students in so many ways:

  • Shows students their voice matters
  • Allows students to get better at talking “to” rather than “at” other students
  • Sharpens students’ listening skills
  • Helps students consider another point of view
  • Strengthens students’ ability to use evidence from text to support thinking
  • Promotes re-reading which deepens understanding of the text
  • Oral rehearsal of ideas (reasons & evidence) improves opinion writing
  • Promotes 100% engagement during read alouds, conversations, and writing
All book descriptions are from

Ugly Fish is ugly and big and mean, and he won't share his driftwood tunnel or his special briny flakes with anyone. And that means the wimpy little fish who keep showing up in his tank have got to go. But then one day someone bigger and uglier and maybe even meaner arrives . . . and suddenly Ugly Fish isn't feeling quite so confident anymore. 

Debate Question: Did Ugly Fish deserve what happened?

Meet Petunia.  More than anything, Petunia wants a pet. I'll feed my pet every day, she promises her parents. I'll take her for walks. I'll read stories to her and draw her pictures.  Petunia knows she can take care of a pet, but what happens when the pet she most desires is a skunk?

Combine fiction and non-fiction evidence for this question, using Pet 101: Pet Skunks.

Debate Question: Would a skunk make a good pet?

Lilly loves everything about school, especially her cool teacher, Mr. Slinger. But when Lilly brings her purple plastic purse and its treasures to school and can't wait until sharing time, Mr. Slinger confiscates her prized possessions. Lilly's fury leads to revenge and then to remorse and she sets out to make amends.

Debate Question: Is Lily a good role model?

All Jeremy wants is pair of black high tops with two white stripes, the ones everyone at school seems to be wearing. But Jeremy's grandmother tells him they don't have room for "want", just "need", and what Jeremy needs is new boots for winter. When Jeremy's shoes fall apart at school and the guidance counselor gives him a hand-me-down pair, he is more determined than ever to have those shoes, even a thrift store pair that are much too small. But sore feet aren't much fun, and Jeremy comes to realize that the things he has --- warm boots, a loving grandma, and a chance to help a friend -- are worth more than the things he wants.

Debate Question: Who helps Jeremy more, Grandma or Antonio? 

Ian always follows the rules. His sister, Jenny, breaks them all the time-especially "Don't pinch." So Ian is thrilled when the house where his family is vacationing posts a tidy list of rules. But when Jenny breaks them all, the house itself decides it's time for payback. The rug, the stove, and the bathtub are hungry for rule breaker soup, and they've found the perfect ingredient: Jenny! 

Debate Question: What helps the most with Ian becoming more flexible, Jenny or the house monsters?

Frank follows the motto, "Honesty is the best policy." He tells the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Frank never lies to his schoolmates, he always tells the truth to adults, and he’s always honest with police officers. The balancing act of finding tact, that fine line between telling the truth and telling too much truth, is the main theme of this story, and it's very funny --- but no one is quite as impressed with Frank’s honesty as he thinks they should be.

Debate Question: Who's happier with more sugar and less pepper when it comes to honesty--the speaker or the receiver of the comment?

Monique hates her school uniform.  Brown and blue? Who wants to wear brown and blue? Monique wants to be different. One day she finds a trunk filled with her mother's old clothes, and the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that Monique transforms her boring old brown and blue (and herself), until she finally learns that no matter what you wear, individuality always shines. 

Debate Question: Does Monique's feeling of success result more from her flexibility or more from her perseverance? 

Meet Brian, the invisible boy. No one ever seems to notice him or think to include him in their group, game, or birthday party...until, that is a new kid comes to class.  When Justin, the new boy, arrives, Brian is the first to make him feel welcome. And when Brian and Justin team up to work on a class project together,  Brian finds a way to shine.

Debate Question: Who ultimately helps the most to make Brian become more visible, Brian or Justin?

Debate is a great way to teach figurative language and/or writing craft! 

Caldecott medalist, Beth Krommes and Newbery Honor-winning poet, Joyce Sidman celebrate the beauty and value of spirals. What makes the tiny snail shell so beautiful? Why does that shape occur in nature over and over again but also celebrate the beauty and usefulness of this fascinating shape.

Debate Question: Is the spiral (swirl) a better symbol for beauty or safety?

An injured magpie and a one-eyed dog live happily together in the forest, until a jealous fox arrives to teach them what it means to be alone.

Debate Question: Does the author create a sense of character more through the use of dialog or through the use of descriptive details?

I have to give a huge shout out to 4th grade teacher, Molly Leding, for welcoming me into her classroom to learn about this work alongside her and her students. She has answered more questions than I can count, coached me as I learned to coach other teachers, and offered great suggestions and feedback for many of the titles I shared in today's post.  

I'm looking forward to seeing what books others have included in their lists this year! A huge thank you goes out to Cathy Mere and Mandy Robek for continuing to host the amazing celebration of picture books. I'm off to check out the #pb10for10 Google Community and hope you will too.

You can see my past lists here:

Friday, July 1, 2016

Poetry Friday~Possibilities

Today I finished part one of the National Writing Project through the Southern Maine Writing Project. This has been a stretching journey for me but one I am so grateful I did. I'm sharing my first real attempt at poetry here today, both as a celebration of completing this part of the journey, but also to push myself to make my writing more public.  This piece was first sparked by an activity we did on the first day of the writing project, where we were asked to choose an item from a table that sparked a memory based on the smell.  I chose a box of crayons. 


September brings a
    brand new box.
Each created for a specific purpose
    waiting with anticipation
        for the artist to tap
           into their creative uniqueness.

A rainbow of possibilities….

The artist’s understanding of the
    medium will be essential.
Pushed too hard, they break;
   held too gently, they may not
            reach their potential.

Mixing and matching
     the kaleidoscope of variant colors
The artist will meld the bold, the vibrant
      with the muted and delicate
Uncovering the subtle shades of
      individualistic greatness
All the while creating a sense of iridescent harmony.

A rainbow of possibilities.

I created the digital piece using Canva.

Monday, March 14, 2016

{solsc} The Flip! #sol16

The March Slice of Life Challenge
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I was a cheerleader. Not the technical, super athletic gymnast type of cheerleader. I was more of the super LOUD, extra enthusiastic type of cheerleader.  I could lead chants and execute cheer moves with great precision. Yes, I was that girl practicing cheer moves at the bus stop, on the playground, walking to check the mailbox, pretty much anytime, anywhere. I was very serious about being a cheerleader.  

One Saturday night when I was about 15 years old, I let my pride get the better of me. My best friend, Tammy, had come over for a sleepover.  As we sat around the living room, the conversation somehow led to my dad challenging me to a cheering competition.  Being the serious cheerleader that I was, I jumped at the chance to show old dad just how good I was! As any gentleman would do, my dad let me go first.  I "Ready!Okayed" with gusto then executed a near flawless cheer.  It was inspiring! The crowd erupted in applause!  Okay. Maybe it was just polite clapping.  But I had performed my very best. And after all, I was up against my dad. What did he know about cheering? Not a whole lot...or so I thought.

He congratulated me on my well executed cheer and then he "Ready! Okayed!". It wasn't bad,  a little over exaggerated, but not bad. I was feeling okay. He was making up some kind of cheer that made absolutely no sense. Another good sign that things were going my way. His movements were completely over the top. Seriously over the top.  I started planning out the words of encouragement I would use to console my poor dad.  And then it happened...right there in the middle of my living room with eight foot ceilings. My old dad....did a backflip to end his routine. A backflip people!

How is a girl supposed to compete with that?!?  Of course, I couldn't. The judges (my mom, my younger brothers, and my best friend) gave the victory to my dad.  My old dad beat me that night...and handed me what would be one of my most favorite memories!

So really, I was the winner after all.

Friday, March 11, 2016

{solsc} PL Day #sol16

The March Slice of Life Challenge
hosted by The Two Writing Teachers
Join us for a month of writing!

"School [districts] should always be on a pathway of self-improvement, with the expectation that teachers will outgrow themselves." Lucy Calkins 

I remember hearing those words in Lucy's opening remarks, kicking off the 2015 Coaching Institute on the Teaching of Reading. They were powerful! Today I was reminded again, of how powerful those words were.   I am grateful to work in a district the ascribes to this philosophy.  

Today was a professional learning day for teachers. In my role as literacy strategist, I am responsible, along with my coaching colleague, for providing the professional development on these days.  I always approach these days hopeful that teachers will view the day as a beneficial use of their time.  I spend a lot of time thinking (code for worrying) about if teachers will find the ideas and information we share tied to the work they are doing, not something "extra" that they have to find time to do. I want them to walk away feeling validated, while also feeling empowered to go deeper.

I'm exhausted and need to spend time reflecting with my coaching colleague on how we can improve for the next time. But my teaching heart is bolstered by the ways I saw and heard teachers expressing ways they can outgrow themselves. Tonight I'm letting those conversations, reminders that none of us (myself included) ever truly "arrive",  replay themselves in my mind as I crash on the couch after a long but very affirming week!  

Thursday, March 10, 2016

{solsc} Shine #sol16

The March Slice of Life Challenge
hosted by The Two Writing Teachers
Join us for a month of writing!

This week my colleague, Matt, and I had the pleasure of hosting site visits for two different teams of educators from other school districts.  We wanted the visits to be useful for these teachers so we planned out a schedule that provided them with observations in three classrooms, where they were able to see the reading and writing workshop in action.  After each workshop,  the host classroom teacher joined us for a debrief session, allowing our visitors to ask questions about not only what they had observed, but also general questions about each teacher's experience with using the Units of Study for Reading and Writing. 

Watching our host teachers navigate their reading/writing workshop, the observer might think it's seamless and effortless. Transitions are smooth. Students are engaged. There's a tone within the classroom that its members are about to embark on serious work. There's community. There's REAL reading and busy work to be found here! However, what was seen in these classrooms was accomplished through reflective effort on each teacher's part. I get to see this mastery every day, but to see it again through someone else's eyes, was so powerful.

Moving into each debrief, we made a conscious decision to take a back seat, allowing our teachers to take the lead in the conversations. I was reminded yet again just how fortunate I am to be doing this coaching work.  Each teacher articulated their 'story' with confidence, answering questions with thoughtful reflection of the instructional decisions and teaching moves they made. As I listened to them talk, I was struck by the fact that this was even more about giving my teachers the opportunity to reflect, as it was giving visiting teams the opportunity to see the work in progress.

And here's the thing that makes this all the more wonderful. Our visitors could come back tomorrow, unannounced, and see the exact same level of excellence in our classrooms. This is the work we do, every day, whether the spotlight is shining on it or not.

I'm just fortunate to be able to shine the light. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

{solsc} Glorious! #sol16

The March Slice of Life Challenge
hosted by The Two Writing Teachers
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I stepped out of the school building this afternoon, anxious to see if the weatherperson had forecasted the day correctly. March weather in Maine has a reputation for being persnickety, often times feeling like the excess baggage of winter.  So when the long range forecast indicated highs in the high 60s today, I did not get my hopes up. I mean, it's only the 9th day of March.  No way could we possibly see temperatures that high this soon.

Well, we didn't have highs in the high 60s. No. The weatherperson got it wrong. Again. Instead we had a high of 75.  Yep. You read that right. 75 degrees on March 9, 2016 in Maine.  I wasted no time getting to my car, popping open my sunroof, and starting home. As I started the 35 minute commute, my mind was busy rearranging my after school plans. The prep work for Friday's professional day was moved several rungs down the priority ladder, as going for a walk quickly moved to the top!

What a glorious afternoon! Usually I'm trying to keep a swift pace as I walk but not today. Instead I meandered through the cemetery across from my house, breathing in the warm fresh air, listening to the birds and taking in the early spring smell of mud.  As I returned home, I admit, the weather  really got the better of me.  I went right out to the pool shed to pull out the grill. Yep. First grilled meal of the season.  And since I'd already gone that far...I topped this glorious glimpse of what's to come with a trip to get an ice cream.

I know this weather won't last. I know there's a really good chance Winter will make it's presence known again before Spring finally takes hold for good. But this one day, holding out a carrot of what's to come, was a welcome distraction in my otherwise ridiculously busy schedule.

It won't be long now, my friend! 

Monday, March 7, 2016

{solsc} Today I... #sol16

The March Slice of Life Challenge
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Today I...

   ....voxed words of encouragement to a coaching colleague dealing with a difficult situation

   ....taught myself how to trim and combine video clips into one video

   .....created a new anchor chart, complete with little people drawings, for a lesson

   ....watched previous modeled lessons begin to take hold as readers became more engaged in reading a professional article on coaching

   .....prepped for two site visits later this week

   .....finalized schedule for an upcoming TC Staff Developer visit

   .....worked on content for Friday's Professional Learning Day

  ......participated in a webinar on Synthetic Phonics 

  ......had dinner with a former colleague, catching up on our professional lives 

  ......helped my niece, an education major, with an assignment on my drive home

  ......wrote something for the seventh day in a row