Category Archives: Reading


I had a lot of homework to catch up on this weekend.

I’ve been taking classes for a while to earn a certificate in Children’s Literature from Penn State University. It’s a much more demanding set of online classes than others I have taken, and even though I have cursed the workload many times over the course of the program, I do enjoy the readings and topics covered.

I had to laugh when I read one of the assignments I had to complete this week because it sounded exactly like what we are asking students to do in reading workshop.

In your testimonial, tell us what you liked about the book and what you disliked. Tell us about any puzzles or questions the book raised for you and note any patterns in the novel or connections. Good testimonials are more about telling us your response to the book and less about retelling the story.

My testimonial was on the book Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu. I approached reading the book differently because I knew I would have to write about my ideas about the book, not, as the instructor said, just retell it. Because I was reading this way, I got so much out of the book, more than I would have if I had read it in the way I usually read. I tend to be a plot junkie, reading simply to find out what happens next. This time I had strategies (yes, those upper level reading workshop strategies) that helped me slow down and let the moments of the book that are supposed to hit hard hit me hard.

If you have not read this book, it should go to the top of your must read list if you like reworked fairy tales, fantasy, and well written coming-of-age stories. A great review, by my favorite children’s librarian (after Barb M., of course) can be found here.



Years ago, we bought a bread maker and it sat collecting dust. We never made bread in it. Ever. We live by this amazing bakery where we buy fresh, delicious bread every few days. Nothing I was going to make in that bread maker was going to take the place of that great bread! I didn’t see the purpose in having the bread maker. Then, one day my husband and I decided that we wanted to make pizza. But where to get the dough? Suddenly the bread maker became a purposeful tool in our lives. It turns out beautiful dough for us almost every Sunday afternoon.

How is this like teaching? Generally, people don’t want to use something they don’t see the purpose in or have a purpose for. Let’s take book boxes for example. Until you make it a priority to be able to easily research your readers, to scaffold them in choosing books that they can read with accuracy and fluency, to monitor the length of time they spend reading, to match them to books of various genres, book boxes might just be something cluttering up your room.

Reading logs are another example. Are they just a form of busy work you feel like you are making kids keep up? If so, it’s probably time to examine the purpose behind them. Reading logs are a way to help students understand themselves better as readers. They should not turn reading into drudgery. Nor should they be an onerous writing exercise. The reading log should be crafted so it gives you and the student information about their reading habits. The reading log will not be useful to a student unless they are taught how to use it, how to analyze the data, how to use what they find to make adjustments in their reading lives and to set goals for themselves.

When our school started thinking deeply about our Writing Workshops, I began by focusing our professional development efforts around the structure of the workshop. One year ago, I opened our first In House Institute with a talk called “A Little Structure Goes a Long Way”. You can imagine how it went: minilessons should have a connection, teaching point, active engagement, and send off. There should be independent work time. There should be a share.

People that already used this structure probably viewed this whole talk as both validating and boring. And for those people who had yet to embrace this structure, I can’t imagine I swayed their thinking because I didn’t make clear the purpose of each piece of the structure, especially the pieces of the mini lesson.

So when we organized our In House Institute this time, I really wanted the focus to be purpose, purpose, purpose. Each of the essential agreements we have outlined as a Language Arts committee serves a purpose. Everything from the structure of the minilesson to the kind of paper we give students to write on, to the way we organize our classroom libraries and the way we organize the charts on our wall-each thing serves a specific purpose that contributes to the big goals of workshop teaching: critical thinking and independence in readers and writers. I want all our conversations to be focused on student learning and the purposeful teaching strategies we use to help students become passionate readers and writers.

TCRWP Coming to TAS!

Yes, you read correctly.  What this means is that we are trying to get staff developers from the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project to come and work with us at TAS next year.  Click the link for a full explanation of what this could entail.

Ideally, we will get one K-2 person and one 3-5 senior staff developer to come for a week in the fall and a week in the spring next year.  On the first visit, they will work with us on improving the quality of our Reading Workshops and on the second visit they will work with us on our Writing Workshops.  If we can’t get them here for 2 weeks next year, we will try for one week in 2011-12 and for one week in 2012-13.

This is a golden opportunity for all of our faculty members to have PD of the quality that those who have gone to the summer institutes have received.  So far we are in the pre-planning stages- trying to get dates to align between our school and the TCRWP people- but the important thing is that we have the support for this initiative all the way up the admin chain here at TAS.

As the saying goes, where there’s a will, there’s a way.  And there is a will.

Incidentally, the TCRWP website has recently undergone a complete renovation.  Check it out!

100 Things About Me as a Reader

100 things about me as a reader?  This kind of list making is just the kind of thing I am drawn to- fun but useful.  After all, isn’t this the way we want our students to know themselves as readers?  Check out this post by Franki Sibberson

I can’t commit to 100 things, but I can start the list.  So, in no particular order, here goes:

1. I read first thing in the morning with a cup of tea and a piece of toast: news, opinion pages and columnists of the New York Times, headlines from Google News and usually a few articles that grab my interest from there, my e-mail, and facebook status updates.

2.  I can become obsessed with books- to the point that I read them when I am parked at a stop light.  Anyone who saw me through this last Hunger Games trillogy obesssion knows that once I get on a tear with a series, I can’t stop thinking about it until I have consumed it all.

3.  I read every night before I go to bed- even if it is for only 5 minutes.

4.  I usually have several reading projects going at once: professional books (one or two at a time), magazines, and fiction are always in the mix.

5.  While I can simultaneously read non fiction texts, I usually read only one fiction book at a time.

6.  I read Oprah magazine cover to cover every month and have for the last 10 years.

7.  In the summer, when I am in the US, I buy People Magazine and read it every week.

8.  I do not have an e-reader.  Yet.

9.  The internet has changed the way I read a lot.  Now when I finish a book, I like to see what other people have said about it or find out more about the author and their process with writing the book.

Nine seems like enough for now.  I’ll add more later.

It's A Book! Trailer

Lane Smith has a great book trailer for his new release  It’s a Book!

I plan on reading a lot of books like the one described here this summer, on a lounge chair by the lake!

What Really Matters for Struggling Readers

FULL DISCLOSURE:  I have not read this book.  However, Amanda J. has, and graciously sent me her favorite quotes from this important book:   What Really Matters for Struggling Readers: Designing Researched-Based Programs by Richard Allington.

“Research Based” is a term that gets thrown around a lot now as a result of NCLB funding.  Why?  For schools to receive some types of federal funding, they have to ensure that their reading programs are “research based”.  For a teacher primarily using their classroom library and years of experience in a balanced literacy model, this could be confronting because your teaching does not come out of a box with the words “research based” on it.  This book provides a strong research base that supports our approach to literacy instruction.


  • The observations pointed to the importance of good teaching—modeling and demonstrating useful reading strategies. For instance, even very small increases in the amount of daily teacher demonstration produced improved reading achievement… For only one minute a day, on average, was the teacher offering explanations or demonstrations of elements of reading, though about fourteen minutes a day were spent in providing general directions about assignments.
  • Effective strategy instruction focused on the thinking that students needed to apply while reading.
  • Effective comprehension strategy lessons immersed students in teacher demonstrations of the thinking, the strategy-in-use, and the application of the strategy repeatedly across a number of different texts.
  • Instead of assign and assess lessons these students need demonstrations of effective strategy use and lots of opportunities to apply the demonstrated strategy over time.
  • The potential of effective strategy instruction to improve students’ performance on school comprehension tasks is well documented. Unfortunately, too few classrooms routinely offer the sorts of strategy teaching that produces better comprehension. In order to enhance reading comprehension, more children need regular access to this sort of teaching. However, a caution should be heeded: Children and adolescents also need to read a lot. Do not get so taken with strategy instruction that the classroom gets out of balance in terms of time spent reading versus time spent on the other things.


  • Taylor and her colleagues demonstrated that the minutes of reading per day during reading period contributed significantly to individual reading growth, whereas time spent on home reading did not.
  • As reading achievement tests have changed, the ability to sustain independent reading over longer texts and for periods of an hour or more has become an increasingly important proficiency.
  • Wide, independent reading has been shown to be the most critical factor in acquiring new word meanings.


  • These finding indicate that interventions for struggling readers that provide far greater opportunities to engage in literate discussions are a necessary component of effective intervention designs.

Towards Thoughful Strategy Instruction

It’s so easy to go overboard on any one good thing.  This post at Choice Literacy covers the balance between the idea of a good teaching strategy and the reality of using it.  Towards the end, the author talks about challenging herself to read one hard book a year and think through what she does as a reader.  It’s such an obvious but great idea to do this- to walk the walk, as she says.  It’s also a great way to come up with possible teaching points for students (either for minilessons or in conferences)- notice and name what you do as a reader, then teach kids to do it.