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Who's Doing the Work? Readers as Thinkers in a Balanced Literacy Classroom

This post contains affiliate links which means Amazon tosses me some change whenever someone makes a purchase through one of these links and allows me feed my book habit! 

This year I made a goal to read one professional book a month.  That's a tall order, but I really want to rededicate myself to growing professionally all year and not just in the summertime.

Who's Doing the Work? was a great book to start with.  At only 144 pages, it meant I was only committing to 36 pages a week.  Totally doable, and it was well worth the effort.

Help your readers learn to be thinkers in a balanced literacy framework with Who's Doing the Work?

So, who is doing the work?  Spoiler alert: you are.  The subtitle of the book is how to say less so readers can do more.  I love the analogy one of the authors shares at the beginning of the book.  She was traveling more, and her house was looking like it.  She taught her boys how to do more household chores-laundry, running the dishwasher, etc.

When she arrived home from a trip (surprise!), none of it was done.  She realized she had taught them HOW to do the chores but had not taught them how to recognize WHEN to do them.  We're doing the same with our readers.  Ouch.  This is one of those books that you see yourself in at every turn.

Here's the run down:


The title really grabbed my attention.  I feel like I have poured my heart into struggling readers but there is not always a correlation between the amount of work I'm doing and the success of the students.  This seemed like it would answer that constant worry of 'if I could just do more'.

Aha Moment

"Beware of mini lessons that become maxi lessons. . ."

This is me.  I talk way too much.  I just want to tell them all that they might need to know.  However, the reality is that spending more time talking does not equal more success.  Kids need time to practice.  It might not look as good as when I'm guiding them the whole way.  But if they walk off and fall flat on their faces, it's not really helping.  Scary part?  The lower the reader the more time we spend teaching and compounding the problem.  Gulp.

I Wish

I wish (totally unrealistically) that this was a snap your fingers book.  You know, do this/say this/use this anchor chart, and your kids will be fine.  It's a shift in thinking and those are usually a little messy.  It definitely brought a huge awareness to me and is a great resource for guiding you through a new way of thinking about supporting our readers.


This book has a secret strength.  I wasn't expecting this book to be an awesome resource for explaining the four components of balanced literacy.  While this is about how to teach your kids to think themselves, it was done through the lens of each component of balanced reading.  The authors did a great job quickly but thoroughly explaining the benefits of each component of balanced literacy and what it looks like at different grade levels.

Good For . . .

Anyone who feels like they are plateauing with their struggling readers.  I would highly recommend this book to anyone wanting a clearer understanding of balanced literacy (especially for upper elementary which usually doesn't get near as much attention).  Shared reading for older kids?  Yep.  They nailed it.  If you need to defend any of your balanced literacy practices, this book will provide you with the ammo.

Wise Words

I hope you'll add Who's Doing the Work to your to be read list.  It helped me reflect on my interactions with students and what I was doing to create learned helplessness without ever meaning to.  This would make a great selection for a professional book club to address how we guide our students and also as a thoughtful overview of what balanced literacy looks like and how valuable each component is.

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January Desktop Calendar

Happy 2017 to you!  I love the feeling of a fresh new year.  I'm going to be more organized, exercise regularly, eat better, and all the other promises we make ourselves each year.  It still feels possible in January.
January 2017 Desktop Calendar Free Download from I Teach. What's Your Superpower?

How cute is this polar bear guy?  These whimsical graphics are from Natdzho.  You can click here to download the calendar, or click on the image below.

January 2017 Desktop Calendar Free Download from I Teach. What's Your Superpower?

Have a wonderful January!

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December Favorites

Hey there! December has zoomed by.  I'm enjoying my post Christmas laze around the house time before it's time to head back to school.  Before it's time to say hello to January and a new year, here are a few favorites from this month.
Personalized wall art, a new coffee cup, a freebie, and more.  Catch up on my favorites from the past month!

This post contains affiliate links which means Amazon tosses me some change whenever someone makes a purchase through one of these links.  Please know I only share items that I use and love.  I hope you'll find a new favorite this month! 

Is it still a "new" house if you've been in it for nine months?  I'm still not done making it my own, but I finally got around to addressing one of the big empty walls in our living room.

I didn't want to do anything too busy because we've got a lot going on with the fireplace wall, but it was just . . . blah.  And it needed to be BIG.  I found some inspiration one day while window shopping in a furniture store when I saw some simple but beautiful framed quotes.

I wanted something more personal and just the right size, so I made my own.  Each person in our family chose a quote.  I made a jpeg of it in Photoshop and ordered them from Canvas Print Factory.  They run sales pretty frequently.  The best part is you can choose your canvas size.  Each of our canvases is 20x48 inches.

My husband and I gave each other a trip for Christmas.  It was a fast trip, but so nice to be alone for a few days.  I grabbed this Las Vegas mug from the Starbucks You Are Here Series.  I love sipping my coffee from these mugs and remembering the trips I've been on.

I got a stripper.  That sounds bad, but it's a dog fur stripper.  We've had a few dog fur things, but this beats them all hands down.  After reading about different tools, I ordered this one from Amazon.
Murray's fur was looking pretty straggly, so I read up on grooming Wire Haired Dachshunds.  Since his fur doesn't grow long, I figured we were good with brushing every once in awhile.  Wrong!  Turns out he needs to be stripped.  Bonus? Our big dog LOVES it.  I can barely get his finished because she's trying to put herself between us the whole time.

He refused to cooperate with a picture to show you how handsome he is.  However, I have a really gross fur pile picture from the first time we used it, but I decided to not post it.  Didn't want to freak out the non-pet people.  You're welcome.

Since our trip was a leisurely one (read: sans kids and no bathroom sharing except for one low maintenance husband), I had time to use the vanity table in our hotel room to get ready at night.  I LOVED having an area to sit down to get ready.  After 20+ years of leaning over the counter, I was ready to move on to something more grown up.

Because I'm crazy once I get an idea in my head, I came home from Las Vegas and started rearranging my closet.  That night.  After an Ikea/Target/Bed Bath and Beyond run the next day, I was in business!  I used the Micke desk from Ikea for the table.  It was a steal at $50.  The mirror was more expensive, but I'm knocking on 40's door, so I need to see what's going on there.  I think this is the same one but the switch is a little different.

And finally, this break has given me a chance to relax big time.  I've slept in, read four books with plans for more, spent time with my family, gone to the movies, and just done anything that will relax the mind and heart.  Getting off warp speed for a little while has helped me realize how completely stressed I usually am.  Part of that is just a busy life, but a good chunk of it is my own doing.  I saw this message while scrolling through Pinterest, and it really spoke to me.

I'm hoping to be more mindful of this once we head back into the craziness of school and real life.  I'm busy enough without adding more to my plate that I can't control.

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Making the Most of Your Minutes

Instructional minutes are more precious than gold to a teacher.   We might have hours in the day, but that time is quickly siphoned off by lunch, recess, PE, unpacking, packing up, etc.

How do you make the most of those minutes?  For most of my teacher years, I got my schedule and started slotting times in.  I needed 45 minutes for this, 35 minutes for that, 20 minutes for the next thing.  Because no one teaches in an ideal world, I always ran out of minutes before I squeezed everything in.

Instructional minutes are like gold! Make the most of your instructional minutes when planning your class schedule.

One year, after my minutes got cut, I had slotted everything in and somehow only had 5 minutes for independent reading by the time everything else was on paper.  Not cool.  Independent reading is hands down one of the most important instructional times for students.  (I wrote about that here if you want to read more.)  There was no way I was cutting independent reading.

Everything else seemed so set in stone though.  There was no way I could teach lesson X in less than 15 minutes, you know how that goes.  It was time to question everything.

Step 1

Started by adding up your minutes.  {Not the minutes your school says you have.  Those are completely inaccurate.  There is no way you can teach writing until 11:30, get lunch cards/lunch boxes, wash hands, and magically be in the cafeteria by 11:30. }  I added up my REAL minutes.  Take off pack up times, transition times, and get to your real minutes.  FYI-That small number is enough to make you want to cry.

Step 2

Subtract your nonnegotiables-for me it was 15 minutes of independent reading.  Now put minutes out of you mind and moved to percentages.  What percentage of the day should be independent reading? Guided Reading? Whole class mini lessons?  Conventions? Word Work?  Your first try will probably get you to 140%, but keep going until you've only assigned 100%.

Step 3

Once you get your percentages worked down, it's time to start assigning minutes.  When I taught just language arts, I had 125 minutes.  So, if I decided my writers workshop should be 35% of my minutes, that means I've got 38.5 minutes.  You may find that you're spending more time on something than you feel it brings value to your class, but in other areas you're not spending enough time.  Here's a peek at mine:
Instructional minutes are like gold! Make the most of your instructional minutes when planning your class schedule.
These minutes are not ideal.  You might have to start making changes with what you're teaching.  I found that once I worked out my percentages-->minutes I was spending waaaay too long on conventions.  While I really liked what I was doing, it wasn't worth short changing other areas.  (You can read about the big switch I made here.)

There's a story in the Not This But That Independent Reading book (affiliate link) about questioning the benches you're guarding.  The gist of it is, a bench had been guarded by soldiers for 30 years, but no one knew why they were doing it.  Once they started researching it, the order had been written because the bench had been painted and was wet.  Not one ever told them to stop doing it, so 30 years later it was still being guarded.

What benches are you guarding?  What are you hanging onto that is bringing as much instructional value as the time it is taking?  How can you get creative?

•Do you maybe want to spend longer on conventions or word study?  Maybe alternate days or weeks.

•Make a Monday-Thursday schedule.  Make Fridays look different with a longer lesson for some of those things you feel like you're cutting short.

•Structure your reading/writing units so one gets more time than the other, and then flip flop.

It's not ideal, but when you take an honest look at your minutes, it will take you closer to a reality that works.

This is a great exercise for any teacher at the beginning of the year and midyear when it may be time to make some tweaks.  There have also been years when I realized on a random Tuesday that life was just not working, and I needed to make some changes.

Wherever you are in your school year, I hope you'll take some time to do this.

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December Desktop Calendar

Happy December to you! It's the first of the month which means it's time for a new background.  It's actually gotten cold, and I'm ready to play winter (even if this is probably as close as I'm going to get to snow.)

December 2016 Desktop Calendar Free Download

The graphics from White Heart Design are incredible.  I can't get over how detailed all the images are.  They're just beautiful.  You can click here to download the background, or click on the image below.

December 2016 Desktop Calendar Free Download

I hope you have a wonderful month!

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November Favorites

Well, November has flown by which means it's almost the end of the year.  Unbelievable!  I'm here to share some of my favorites from the month of November.  Here's what I've been loving this month.
A time saving new flat iron, a new winter soup favorite, and more favorites from November.
This post contains affiliate links which means Amazon tosses me some change whenever someone makes a purchase through one of these links.  Please know I only share items that I use and love.  I hope you'll find a new favorite this month! 

This flat iron brush is NO JOKE.  I saw an advertisement for it on Facebook and thought maybe it was too good to be true.  I watched a couple of videos (God bless YouTube), and it seemed pretty legit.

And it is.
I mainly use a big barrel curling iron, but there are times you just want a flat iron.  Plus, we have flat iron trauma in our house.  Earlier this year, my younger daughter asked me to flat iron her hair for picture day.  Mid flat iron, she locked her knees for a little too long and went down like a stone.  Passed out cold and scared me to death.

This flat iron is way faster and does an awesome job.  And has been trauma free so far.  Like all good things, it's available on Amazon Prime.  Here's one of the videos I watched if you want to learn more:

This is my new favorite soup! It's delicious and is healthy AND easy to make.  This one is definitely staying in the winter rotation.

These YA books were recommended to me by a parent.  I read them over the Thanksgiving break, and loved both A Night Divided and The War That Saved My Life.

TSA Precheck is my new favorite travel accessory.  I think I love it even more than my enormous purse that basically doubles as a second carryon suitcase.  Faster line and less hassle? Heck yes.
Not funny at the time story-I didn't have the correct documentation for our marriage certificate which led to us thinking for about an hour that we had never legally validated our seventeen year marriage.  Turns out we're good.

I was very surprised how quickly we were able to get an appointment.  I had visions of waiting for months, but we got an appointment in just a few days.  Totally worth the $85 to breeze through security for the next five years.

Not a new movie, but we finally got around to watching The Heat this month.  If you're a Jenny McCarthy fan, you'll love it.  She's hilarious as always in this one!  {If language makes you clutch your pearls, you may want to skip this one.

Hope you had a great November!

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Meaningful Instruction with Mentor Sentences

Here's a little secret for you: I used a daily oral language type instruction for conventions for years.  AND I LOVED IT.  I loved it 100%.  I hugged it tight to my little teacher heart.  I loved it because it had a rhythm, it was ready to go, and I could know with certainty that I had taught all of the concepts I was supposed to teach.

Except it wasn't sticking.  I was teaching my heart out and the kids were working their little hearts out, but there was no transfer to their writing.
Make conventions instruction meaningful with mentor sentences--an authentic way to teach students grammar, punctuation, and craft without making them hate editing.
Several years ago, the district I was in at the time encouraged us to start using mentor sentences.  Let's clarify what encourage meant.  We were told:

•Mentor sentences are a more authentic way to teach grammar and punctuation.

•The concept is from Jeff Anderson's book, Everyday Editing.

•It works really well.

The end.

Anyway, with all that amazing support, I decided to give it a shot (crazy, right?)  Even though I had no clue what I was doing, I jumped in after doing a little reading on the Internet.  Sounds like the basis for a great start.   Incredibly, even though I had almost no idea what I was doing, I did see gains in my students.  They enjoyed it, and I saw a payoff in both their conventions and craft.

And then I quit.

Why on earth would I quit?  It was exhausting.  I sure there are wonderful teachers out there that can juggle those balls, but for me it ended up being a really awesome thing that I didn't have time to create every week.  I wish that wasn't true, but that was my testing overload, meeting filled, documentation all day everyday reality.

Another fact for you (this one a little embarrassing), I am TERRIBLE at parts of speech.  I'm still not sure what a gerund is.  So, we headed back to DOL.  While I whole heartedly embraced the belief behind mentor sentences and saw the positive impacts of it, I simply wasn't able to make it work with the reality of my limited lesson prep time.

Flash forward a few years, and my only problem with mentor sentences was solved.  Ideas by Jivey took care of the trickiest part of teaching-reality.  With this in hand, I took the time over the summer to read Jeff Anderson's Everyday Editing.  It was helped me understand why, despite my very best effort, my instruction wasn't sticking.  Here are a few quotes from the book:

If you are looking for a change that sticks in your conventions instruction, I strongly recommend reading Everyday Editing.  While it is entirely possible to do the work yourself, I definitely think getting started with the units from Ideas by Jivey is a much more sane way to go.  Once you get the hang of it, you may feel more comfortable with creating your own lessons to go along with a book your class is reading.

Make conventions instruction meaningful with mentor sentences--an authentic way to teach students grammar, punctuation, and craft without making them hate editing.

Want to learn more?  You can check out Jeff Anderson's book, Everyday Editing, on Amazon.  At 160 pages, it's a pretty easy read especially since over 100 of those pages are him walking you through 10 lessons.
{affiliate link}

Jivey has an AWESOME Facebook group with tons of videos of lessons that will help you get jumped started.  I'm a visual person, so it really helped me to see these lessons in action.  You can click here to join.

Visit Ideas by Jivey's Teachers Pay Teachers store to see her mentor sentences resources.  Read more about mentor sentences on her blog.

Make conventions instruction meaningful with mentor sentences--an authentic way to teach students grammar, punctuation, and craft without making them hate editing.

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