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Who Doesn't Love a Bouquet of Freshly Sharpened Pencils?

Every fall since I began teaching, or really, going to school, I have loved the look, smell and feel of a freshly sharpened pencil. Maybe because it holds a magical new beginning - a new story, the scratching attempts at a never-before-seen math problem. Maybe it's that satisfying click when the ultra-sharp tip breaks upon meeting the paper. Or perhaps its the tall, dignified way the pencil fits in your hand. It almost encourages its user to sit up straighter, think more deeply and pay attention to every little detail.

As the school year goes on, the pencils get stubbier, dingier, and often just disappear all together. You find yourself saying, "Okay, kids! Today we all get to write with pens!" because you haven't yet had the time to seek out some new pencils.

My hope is that as the school year goes on, this blog will serve as new pencils of sorts. I hope you'll take a break from your busy school day to read and wonder. And who knows, perhaps you'll be inspired to sit up straighter, think more deeply and pay attention to every little detail.

A Few Read-Alouds to Start the Year

Beautiful Oops! by Barney Salzburg


In an time where perfection in children is valued a bit too highly,

Beautiful Oops shows kids the wonders that can occur when mistakes are made. Show your students you love their blunders, flaws and first attempts. The book will help you build a community of learners who are inspired to take risks!

Fox's Garden by Princesse Camcam


Published just this month, this wordless picture book is a story about a wayward fox who finds kindness in a small boy. Its cut-paper illustrations are simply magical. "Read" it to your students and let them guide the discussion. Its guaranteed to be a rich one!

The Boy on Fairfield Street by Kathleen Krull


"All in all, he excelled at fooling around." Sound like anyone you know? This unique biography of Ted Geisel (known to most as Dr. Seuss) is really the story of a boy who couldn't quite find his place. Your boys will love it, your Dr. Seuss fans will love it, and anyone who has experienced being the odd one out will surely love it!

Literacy Podcasts

In the beginning of every school year, I find I can't absorb professional literature fast enough. I want to enhance what I'm doing well and revamp what needs tweaking.

For an easy fix of fabulous, research-based strategies and ideas, check out some podcasts. I love Choice Literacy, Heinemann Authors and Voices of Literacy. Have a listen while you're cleaning your classroom or doing laundry this weekend!

Some of my favorites are listed below. What are yours?

Holding on to Good Ideas in a Time of Bad Ones - Tom Newkirk and Nancy Atwell (does it get much better than that?)

Mentor Texts - Ralph Fletcher

Some Things I Learned from You


After spending much of my summer working with passionate teachers, I enter the fall season inspired and with an inquisitive mind.

Here are just a couple of the topics I'm mulling over:

Spelling Instruction (and Its Potential Demise)

"The penalty for misspellings as an adult is quite severe," said Kathy, an insightful speech pathologist from my course in Washington, D.C. while we were discussing various ways to truly integrate spelling into Writing Workshop. Do we allow our students to rely too heavily on electronics for spelling? And what happens when they get older and write a thank you card, resume, or report and they've made simple spelling errors? For a bit more on this, check out Is Spell Check Creating a Generation of Dummies? and let me know what you think!

Is Partner Work Creating Confusion?

Diane, from Reston, Virginia, has been investigating partner work. What happens when partners give each other misinformation? Is this creating situations where teachers have to un-teach and re-teach? How can we monitor partner work to ensure students are sharing accurate information or have the metacognition to know when they don't know something? Nancy Atwell and Donal Murray have some solutions presented here: The Writer's Toolbox.

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