Tag Archives: Professional Development

10 Professional Titles that Inspire & Change the Trajectory of Teaching

I am one of those people who has a stack of books overflowing on my nightstand next to my bed, another pile taking over my desk, and an Amazon wish list twelve books deep what to read next. Professional books are ones that I read closely with a pen to annotate and bring back to my classrooms. This past year I have read ten professional books that I have blogged about in detail and here are a few more worth mentioning.


180 Days by Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle (Heinemann, 2018)

After sitting in a round table session with both Kittle and Gallagher at NCTE back in 2017 I was awaiting this book to see an inside look at how both these amazing high school teachers planned the year in their classroom teaching reading and writing. For any English teacher, this book is a must read because it gives an honest perspective to the demands of teaching reading, writing, and critical thinking.


A Novel Approach by Kate Roberts (Heinemann, 2018)

I have been lucky enough to take a week long class with Kate at Teachers College Reading and Writing Institute more than ten years ago and have followed her because of her ideas and energy. What is great about this book is how she balances book choice and whole class novels in the reading and writing workshop. She seems to teach reading units in small 2-3 week bursts but that helped me to look closely at how long I may be drowning my students in a reading unit. I am more selective about what I choose to spend time teaching with each whole class novels so that my students can enjoy the books we read together.


Workshopping the Canon by Mary Styslinger (NCTE, 2018)

Another recommended title for my ELA and Literacy colleagues. This book demonstrates how to partner classic texts with a variety of high-interest genres within a reading and writing workshop structure, Mary E. Styslinger aligns the teaching of literature with what we have come to recognize as best practices in the teaching of literacy.


Shake it Up Learning by Kasey Bell (DBC, 2017)

When I ran into Kasey Bell at #ISTE18 we swapped books and I sat in the airport awaiting my flight home reading her book. Her ideas are straightforward in helping to create learning experiences for students that empower and ignite curiosity and critical thinking. Her book is accessible to all and she has practical ideas to shake up your teaching and student learning.


Sparks in the Dark by Travis Crowder and Todd Nesloney (DBC, 2018)

Lead with Literacy by Mandy Ellis (DBC, 2018)

This summer I wrote a longer post about the key ideas that I took away from these two books. If the title states or suggests anything to do with literacy, I am going to read it. Both these books are filled with literacy activities that help support the reading and writers in our classrooms and Mandy’s book is all about building a culture of students who love literacy.


Be Real by Tara Martin (DBC, 2018)

Tara has this infectious personality that is so authentic. After spending time with her at SPARK and ISTE this past year, I am a follower and fan. From #booksnaps and building relationships, Tara is all about “you be you and know that you are awesome.”


Make Learning Magical by Tisha Richmond (DBC, 2018)

I consider Tisha a friend ever since we connected through Twitter four years ago. She is an amazing person and always inspired me with the wonderful things she did with her high school culinary students. I am so excited that she has published her first book. Laughter, fun, and gamified experiences can make school a place where students are inspired, empowered, and immersed in learning–and it doesn’t require illusions or smoke and mirrors. The actionable techniques Tisha shares will equip you to put your students center stage in their learning experiences. You want to be in her classroom after reading all the great things she does with her students.


Hacking the Writing Workshop: Redesign with Making in Mind by Angela Stockman (Hack Series, 2018)

I am on a Makerspace quest and thinking how the writing process and design thinking process of the maker movement parallel each others. I have been doing research and a lot of reading how I can bring making and writing together to boost students writing and creative thinking. Angela Stockman’s book was the start with some key ideas to help me on this quest.


The Creativity Project: An Awesometastic Story Collection by Colby Sharp (Little Brown, 2018)

Speaking of creativity, Colby’s book is filled with creative writing prompts that published authors shared with him and answered other people’s creative prompts. These are great prompts to read and complete with your student to inspire creative thinking and growth mindset.

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5 Professional Books to Strengthen Student Learning

I have spent the past two weeks binge reading professional books published this year. Reading professional books about teaching allows me to reflect on my own teaching practices and look into new ways to support the learners in my classroom. All of the books   inform my thinking about literacy in order to strengthen students’ reading and writing.


Let’s begin by throwing out everything you know and teach about the literary essay in secondary school. The formula for teaching essays in schools is not really an “essay.” Katherine Bomer’s The Journey is Everything: Teaching Essays That Students Want to Write for People Who Want to Read Them (Heinemann, 2016) shares some of the most beautifully crafted essays throughout her book as she calls for the need to revise what we think we already know about teaching and writing essays. Each chapter of her book takes the reader through the “essaying” process from reading closely to crafting powerful essays. Bomer defines essays as “nonfiction prose, whose author unveils a central idea about the world and its occupants and invites – with bold, sometimes lyrical exposition and interesting kaleidoscope of facts, observations, memories, anecdotes, and quotes from others – readers to watch him or her think about that idea for a few pages.” (p.22) She argues the problems with standardized essays forms and supports utilizing the essay for the practice of “writing to think.” Bomer offers strategies to help get ideas down on paper and hones in on the craft moves of great essayists. The book includes powerful essays and essay excerpts from Brian Doyle, LeBron James, Roxane Gay, and dozens more.


Fisher, Frey, and Lapp’s, Text Complexity: Stretching Readers With Texts and Tasks, 2nd Edition (Corwin & ILA, 2016) addresses the quantitative and qualitative measures of text complexity so teachers can make instructional and assessment decisions to support students as readers. The authors discuss all the characteristics of the reader and a text to consider.  For example, when considering the reader teachers cannot ignore background knowledge, fluency, cultural knowledge, and vocabulary knowledge for text selection and teaching. When choosing a text, teachers must analyze the text for levels of meaning or purpose, structure, language and knowledge demands. These considerations allow teachers to “plan appropriate instruction and strategically guide the development of their learners.” (p. 67) The book contains a number of checklists and tables that highlight the strategies and skills needed to build students’ knowledge. Fisher, Fray and Lapp describe teacher led tasks like Think Alouds, Close Reading, Scaffolding, and Collaborative Conversations as examples of strategies to help students read more, read widely, and read deeply, in order to develop life long readers.


Years ago I read a book by Robyn R. Jackson titled Never Work Harder Than Your Students (ACSD, 2009) which addressed having students do the difficult work of learning to build stamina and knowledge. Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris’ book Who’s Doing the Work? How to Say Less So Readers Can Do More (Stenhouse, 2016) takes a similar vein to Jackson’s work and looks specifically at Read Alouds, Shared Reading, Guided Reading, and Independent Reading in order for teachers to push students towards leading the conversations about books and reading. By asking students, “What could you try?” puts students in the driver seat instead of scaffolding, front loading, or telling students the answers. We want students be in the driver seat rather than autopilot in our classrooms to thinking deeply and construct meaning versus teachers constructing meaning for students. Constructing meaning should be done by our students and Burkins and Yaris offer strategies and prompts that make stronger readers. Looking to maximize our students’ roles, teachers become facilitators so that students can apply what they know and think.

Both Who’s Doing All the Work? and Text Complexity address a growth mindset (Dweck, 2006). As Dweck states in an article for EdWeek, “Students who believed their intelligence could be developed (a growth mindset) outperformed those who believed their intelligence was fixed (a fixed mindset). And when students learned through a structured program that they could “grow their brains” and increase their intellectual abilities, they did better. Finally, we found that having children focus on the process that leads to learning (like hard work or trying new strategies) could foster a growth mindset and its benefits.”

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Struggle is natural and learning can be challenging, it’s how students respond to challenge, struggle, and the hard parts is what really matters.  Gravity Goldberg’s Mindsets & Moves: Strategies That Help Readers Take Charge (Corwin, 2016) is an ode to growth mindset in the classroom. Building on the works of Dweck, Angela Duckwork’s Grit and Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly, Goldberg describes the new role of teachers as miners, mirror, models, and mentors to encourage a “stronger appetite for learning” among our students. Teachers must first admire their students, give detailed and effective feedback, show students what we do as readers, and then guide students towards ways of reading that work for them. Goldberg offers a visual tour of effective classrooms through pictures, descriptions, charts, and lessons.


Kate Roberts & Maggie Beattie Robert’s DIY Literacy: Teaching Tools for Differentiation, Rigor, and Independence (Heinemann, 2016) offered four teaching tools to bring into the classroom as scaffolds and supports for student learning. Teaching charts, Bookmarks, Micro Progression Charts, and Demonstration Notebooks are four visual tools that explain ideas, clarify, and illustrate skills and techniques so students can turn around and recall key ideas taught.  As a teacher who already uses charts and demonstration notebooks, the micro progression charts and bookmarks were two artifacts that I plan on bringing back to my classroom and utilizing with my students. The micro-progressions of skills chart articulates criteria for students the different levels of that skill and creates a model for each level. Below is a picture of an example of a micro progression chart.


image from https://i.vimeocdn.com/video/565312636_295x166.jpg

We all have our favorite professional texts for teaching reading and writing. The books mentioned here offer great insight and teaching moves to support students as critical thinkers, readers, and writers.

If you have any professional books you recently read and find helpful with teaching literacy, please share in the Comments section on this blog.




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Five Things to Look Forward to in 2015

Happy and Healthy New Year!!!

Welcome to 2015, there are so many great things in the works for 2015 to share with you in hope that you will join me for some of these professional development experiences.

Number 1

#ISTELitChat happens the last Sunday of each month at 8 PM EST on Twitter discussing all things literacy and technology. As the facilitator of this Twitter Chat, I can attest that the topics are relevant to teachers who are looking to boost literacy and technology in their content area classroom in creative and authentic ways. Our last chat addressed Twitter in the K-12 classroom and the archived chat offers a host of resources and examples. Our next #ISTELitChat will be on Sunday, January 25th at 8 PM EST. I hope that you will join us.


Have you or are your students reading I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World (Young Readers Edition) by Malala Yousafzai and Patricia McCormick? This is an incredible book about Malala passion for equity in education and her own experiences standing up the Taliban. It offers personal insight how one person can help change the world and make a difference. I currently have my students reading this memoir for their outside reading assignment this January and will participate in weekly Twitter Chats to share their insights, reflections, questions, and understanding. The next Twitter book chats will be Thursday, January 8, 15, and 22nd at 8:30 PM EST. All are welcome to participate in the Twitter Chat using the hashtag #RMS8R.

number 3

Mark your calendars for EdCamp Mville on Saturday, August 29th at Manhattaville College in Purchase, New York to address relevant topics about education today. Edcamp Mville is a free educational conference where participants choose to attend and or present topics important today in classrooms, schooling, and educational policy. All are welcome. The conference is still in the works but if you are interested in attending or presenting please feel free to contact me.

Number 4

July 17-20, 2015 I will be presenting at International Reading Association (IRA) 60th Annual Conference in St. Louis, Missouri. My poster session is titled, “Get Techie With It: Technology Oriented Assignments That Foster The Love of Reading.” The essential question to focus the session is, How can teachers utilize technology in meaningful ways to promote the love of reading?

Learning Objectives include:

Participants will learn more than two dozen technology based projects and assignments (beyond book reports and essays) that encourage student reading and authentic responses to text.

Participants will understand how technology can be utilized to enhance reading and reading responses, differentiate, offer student choice, and promote collaboration.

Number 5

I have been receiving many emails about the interactive foldables that I created for teaching writing that I have blogged about this past year. I am amazed by the positive feedback I received with the dystopian interactive foldable bundle that I put together on TpT. I am putting together a bundle of the writing foldables and will post on TpT later this month.

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Close Reading and Smart Analytical Writing with Laura Robb

Laura Robb is just one of those published educators who I have come to trust for authentic teaching practices to improve student engagement and learning. So, when I found out that Heinemann was hosting a one day workshop with Laura Robb back in September, I immediately signed up. The workshop covered writing plans to support the development of analytical writing, practice strategies for creating claims and using evidence from texts to develop arguments, articulating criteria for a writing task and mini lessons to support what students should know, and addressed how self and peer revision improves student writing.

Here are some of the key ideas that I learned to bring back into my classroom:

1. Teach Students to Activate Prior Knowledge on Their Own

Students need to ask themselves, “What do I know about this topic” before reading. If students don’t know anything they need to read slowly and thoughtfully, be prepared to reread parts and close read to make sense of words, sentences, and paragraphs. Writing and talking about what we read also is essential to share what we have learned from the reading.

2. Mythology, Folklore, & Legends are Important to Teach

When I think about it, every state exam that I have seen over the past fifteen years for my middle school students contains a myth, legend, or folklore in the reading comprehension section. This genre is referenced everywhere, students need to read the different myths, legends, and folklore to identify the allusions, as well as understand the characteristics and structure of these types of text.

3. Help Students Create a Claim Using the YES/NO Strategy

Pose a question that relates to the text. Make sure the question has a yes and no response. Have students argue for the claim that their reading supports. Ask students to use their text to find evidence that successfully argues for the claim. Evidence can be details and logical inferences. For example: Can better care of land in the prairies reduce the negative effects of dust storms? or Can discrimination prevent a person from realizing his or her dreams?

4. Tips for Productive Peer Editing

“Excellent” or “Terrific” is not helpful for revision and editing. This kind of feedback doesn’t really help improve writing. Teachers must show students how to respond to student’s essays. Start with a positive comment and point out a need with a question. By offering students examples, teachers build their mental model of what helpful peer editing looks like.

5. Mentor Texts: Analyze Openings and Endings

Share with students effective leads and endings in both fiction and non fiction texts. Students need to see MODELS to help them build their own writing style and see what “good” writing looks like. Create a list of various leads and endings for students to refer back to often. Discuss what was effective and why. As Laura Robb states in her book, Nonfiction Writing From the Inside Out, “The ending sums up the emotional journey, leading the reader to an awareness and understanding of how the person grew from experiences and how the reader grew by following it.”

6. Rethinking How Teacher Evaluate & Grade Writing

Rather than a rubric, give student the criteria for a writing assignment, such as a analytical essay and give students two grades: the first grade is for the content; the second grade is for the craft, style, and writing conventions. Allow students to improve their grades by revising and editing their second drafts.

For more information about Laura Robb you can go on her website to see the more than twenty books she has written and read through her monthly newsletters for more ideas for teaching reading and writing.

Carnegie Report “Writing to Read: Evidence for How Reading Can Improve Writing” written by Graham & Herbert

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4 Great Resources from #NCTE14: Day Two

You didn’t have to attend the National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention in to know about the resources below. These websites offer an abundance of resources for professional development and classroom instruction.

1. Wonderopolis

Have you ever wondered what is in toothpaste or what gummy bears are made of? Wonderopolis is an amazing website that inspires wonder in its readers. This website is the place to go to answer questions about life’s little mysteries. Students can explore the archives of wonders and share their own wonders. There are great resources for teachers and beginning early next year, Wonderopolis will be launching a new website with a multitude of resources for teachers and young people.

2. Open a World of Possible

Scholastic has put together a collection of essays from authors, actors, musicians, and educators about the joy of reading and books. This is an amazing book and invaluable resource for teachers and students.

3. Nerdy Book Club

If you are an avid reader of my blog, that you know that I have contributed to The Nerdy Book Club website more than once. This blog is the best collaboration of book lovers, readers, and writers across the globe who have one purpose: pursue and promote #BookLove. Check out the website to read about reading lives, learn about the newest and best children’s and young adult fiction, and more.

4. #NCTE14 Handouts & Session Notes

Even if you didn’t make it to #NCTE14 in Washington, DC this year, you can still access session materials posted by presenters. Whether you are interested in a particular person or a specific session on writing, you can access power points and session handouts.

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#EdcampLI’s Rigor, Wonder, and Book Love

Saturday was amazing.  I attended #EdcampLI held at the Willet’s Road School in Roslyn Heights, Long Island and left energized and excited to go back to school on Monday. Some common threads addressed by the workshop leaders and attendees included: engagement, relevancy, growth mindset, and connections.

If you do not know much about EdCamps, they are anti-conferences or a choose your own professional development opportunity tied into one. Teachers and administrators show up to an Edcamp and can either lead a session or attend sessions presented by a host of educational experts. By educational experts I mean current teachers, administrators, authors, educational consultants and more. Edcamps are no to low cost and allow attendees to attend the workshops and discussions that are most meaningful to them. These unconferences are a great way to meet like-minded colleagues who are looking to improve and learn from one another.

Throughout the day I participated in four workshops, talked with a ton of people, tweeted nonstop, and made lots of connections. The two workshops left a lasting impression on me were Carol Varsalona and Blanca E. Duarte‘s interactive presentation Discovering Wonder: Increasing Student Engagement with Curiosity and Awe and JoEllen McCarthy‘s Book Love: New Titles, Tools and Tweeting to Energize All Readers & Writers!

Here are some sticking points:

Invite vigor and engagement into your classroom with wonder and passion.

To create WONDER in your classroom:

Redesign the literacy landscape — think outside of the box and create a classroom that promotes inquiry and excitement right when they walk in the door. It is not just about what you are doing in your classroom but also how your classroom is set up and looks. You want your classroom to be inviting and pleasing to one’s eyes.

Never stop learning. Use websites like Wonderopolis, Google Cultural Institute, Google Wonder Projects, Google Art Projects, and How Stuff Works with your students.

Check out and download Scholastic’s Open a World of Possible ebook that is filled with amazing essays written by authors, educators, and celebrities about their love of reading the role that books play in their lives.

Pair and Layer Texts

If you do not already follow The Nerdy Book Club on Twitter and the blog, then you should!

Here is one last secret that I will to share. I am currently in the process of organizing EdcampMville at Manhattanville College in Purchase, NY for K-12 educators and also those in Higher Education this upcoming Spring 2015. The idea is to bridge educators of all grade levels and content areas together for a day of conversation, collaboration, and connecting. I will be sharing a lot more about this endeavor over the next few months. If you are interested in participating, please contact me.

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Rockin’ n the Common Core Learning Standards: Ideas that blend Rock and Roll history and CCLS

I had the opportunity to present at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Summer Institute this week.  The summer institute includes a week long professional development opportunity I highly recommend.  The objectives of the institute include: (1) learning about the history of rock and roll and popular music, recognizing that music is the complex product of individual artistic creation, social and cultural communities, new technologies and emerging industries; (2) identify aspects of popular music culture that can be brought into the classroom in order to reinforce instructional goals, including meeting state and common core learning standards; and (3) plan classroom activities using featured Rock and Roll Music Hall of Fame and Museum content and resources.

Below is my presentations and the resources I shared with the participants.

Rock and Roll Tweet

With this activity students have viewed Time Life’s History of Rock and Roll documentary. I have students take notes in their rock journal of the big ideas presented in the documentary.  At the end of the first episode, the video discusses how within a few years of the late 1950s rock and roll exploded in the mainstream and then hit some speed bumps — Elvis was drafted into the military, Buddy Holly’s plane crash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry had some legal issues due to their relationship with young women — this Rock and Roll Tweet activity allows students to infer and synthesize based on their understanding of the documentary.

Disco Roll the Dice

Roll the Dice is a differentiated jigsaw activity that allows students to collaborate and answer questions generated by the teacher.  As students walk into the classroom they get the handout above with questions on one side and a particular reading about Disco on the other side.  There are four different readings all about the history of Disco that range in reading complexity and sub topics.  Students take the first ten minutes of class to read and summarize the reading.  Then, students get into small groups with students who have the same readings and articulate their understanding.  After six or seven minutes the students then break up into a second small group that includes students who read each of the four different texts.  The students get a set of dice and each student has a chance to roll the dice and answer the question (with their peer’s help) that correlates to the number they rolled. A collaborative activity that allows students to work together, listen, and articulate their understandings.

Additional materials shared is available on my Rock Write Listen Wiki.  This includes a 1969 Woodstock QR Code Quest and Webquest about the 1980s.

A special thank you to Stephanie Heriger and Max Espinosa of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum Education Department for the opportunity to present and share lesson ideas I am passionate about. 

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