An Invitation to “Geek Out”

My colleagues used to lovingly poke fun at me for the vast amount of reading I did on literacy education.  They would shake their heads at me when I showed up at lunch with a professional book; highlighter and pen in hand, “just in case” I had a spare second to read.  They giggled at the thought of me reading and annotating in bed at night, when most would use that time to unwind by watching TV or reading much lighter fare.  And they would playfully roll their eyes when I talked about my summer beach reading, which consisted of books on reading and writing workshop.  But through it all, their raised eyebrows and skeptical looks never bothered me.

I unabashedly love “geeking out” on literacy.

Despite their chiding, my colleagues saw the value of my obsession as well.  If anyone ever needed a specific professional book, I probably had it on my shelf–already read through, highlighted, tabbed, and annotated–or, brand-new and still in my “To Read” pile.  When they wondered about a particular strategy or methodology, I could usually answer their question and pass along a resource to aid in their quest.  And our conversations about classroom practices grew much richer as I brought up ideas and theories that I had read about, and they learned along with me.

Due to the instructional gains I’ve seen from teachers who read widely about their field, it has become obvious to me that continuing our professional growth is an extremely important aspect of our lives as teachers.  It is especially one that we must perpetually work at in the ever-changing world of literacy education.

Penny Kittle recently tweeted an article by Rob Jenkins, from the Chronicle of Higher Education, titled “The 4 Properties of Powerful Teachers”.  One particularly poignant statement reads,

You must continue your education on a regular basis — by reading extensively in your field, attending conferences and seminars, conducting and presenting your own research, and remaining a practitioner of your art or science. You must also continue to learn and grow as a teacher by exploring new advances in pedagogy and technology that can help you in the classroom.

And in the short term, to be a powerful teacher you must go into every single class meeting as prepared as you can be, given the time you have. That means more than just reviewing your notes or PowerPoint slides. It involves constantly reassessing what you do in the classroom, abandoning those strategies that haven’t proved effective, or are just outdated, and trying new ones. It means being so familiar with your subject matter that you can talk about it off the cuff.

Some of that will come with time, as your level of familiarity with your subject will naturally increase the more you teach it. Then again, just because you’ve been teaching a course for 15 or 20 years doesn’t mean you shouldn’t approach it each term as if for the first time. It’s that level of preparation that allows great teachers to make it all look so easy.

(for the full article, click here)

Along with accepting new knowledge, we must also be open to the inevitable changes that will come about as new advances and understandings are made in the literacy field.  To be a truly great teacher, we must be open to the possibility that “our way” might not necessarily be the best way for our students.  That does not mean that we should wholeheartedly grasp onto every flash-in-the-pan theory that is presented, but that we should take the time to think about, evaluate, and possibly learn from each one.  A professional is, and always will be, a life-long learner within their field, even when they’ve been in that field for years.

So, whether you read professional books, follow educational blogs, or seek out every PD workshop you can in your area, I invite you to “geek out” with me, grow,  and share what you’ve learned.

Let’s keep the conversation going-


First Illiteracy, and now Aliteracy

A main focus of this blog will be the importance of engaging students in reading (and writing for that matter). Blame the “self-proclaimed literacy geek” title, but I think fostering a culture of readers is an extremely important component of a literacy program.

In my classroom days, I promised parents at Back-to-School Night that I would make each and every one of their children a reader.  I’ll admit– I was given many skeptical looks.  But I did not waiver. Literacy is just too important.

Classroom teachers  in upper elementary and middle school are facing a difficult challenge– a world where reading a book might not seem like the most interesting thing to do for a student who is bombarded with tweets, text messages, Instagram posts, Facebook updates, and online gaming challenges.  The decline in time spent reading can be seen in data from the Scholastic Kids & Family Reading Report (2015).

Percentage of Children (Ages 6-17) Who Read Books for Fun 5-7 Days a Week

Decline in Time Spent Reading

Percentage of Children (Ages 6-17) Who Do Activities 5-7 Days A Week

Increase in Time Spent with Electronics

These technological distractions do not even factor in the vast amount of sports and after-school activities students are involved in.  Couple student disinterest with the pressure classroom teachers feel to “cover” material before the administration of high-stakes tests, and it’s easy to see why creating a culture that builds life-long readers has fallen to the wayside or been put on the back burner.

So, where we used to contend only with illiteracy  for a select population of students, now teachers must contend with aliteracy in a vast majority of students.  The National Endowment of the Arts even warned us of a world where the amount of aliterate individuals would surpass the amount of illiterate individuals in the report To Read or Not to Read, which was published in 2007.  

To understand the term, aliteracy, I would like to use Steven L. Layne’s explanation of a complete reader from his book Igniting a Passion for Reading (©2009 Scholastic), where he explains his idea using a circle visual.

Complete Reader visual

The left side of the circle is comprised of the skills necessary to be literate. The inclusion of the right side allows affective or will-driven components to be factored into one’s literacy as well.

In Layne’s description, a complete reader is one who has the skill and the will.  One who can and wants to read.

So, in accordance with this:

  • An illiterate student would be one who does not have the skill to read.
  • An aliterate student has the skill to read, but does not have the will/want to read.

Classroom teachers are confident in the imparting of skills to students in order to promote literacy.  We’ve been doing this all along.  The left side of Layne’s circle is an important aspect of the literacy process; as without skills, one physically cannot read.

But when do we address the will???  How do we bolster students’ intrinsic motivation to read and create life-long readers out of all who pass through our doors?  These are the questions we need to continue to attend to– questions that I will try to provide some answers to as we take this journey together…

Let’s keep the conversation going-


And…we’re off!

It’s been a long and slow process to this point.  One where I’ve been dragging my heels every step of the way.  My heart beats quickly and my stomach is all aflutter… But believe it or not, this is a good day—a great day!  For I am embarking on a journey that has been itching at the back of my mind for a few years now.  A challenge that I’ve shied away from.  A task that I deemed more advanced than my ability.

This is the start of my blog!

I am a seven-year classroom teacher veteran, who recently began a new position as a literacy coach.  A self-proclaimed literacy fanatic, who “geeks out” on all things literacy.  Calkins, Allington, Daniels, Harvey, and Keene are some of my idols.  I live and breathe the skills, strategies, and techniques required to get students to engage in, to love, and to learn literacy.

My journey had a humble start.  I began my career as a fourth grade teacher, teaching all subject areas: reading writing, math, science, and social studies.  Things took a turn, during my fourth year, when the district announced that we would departmentalize reading and math at my grade level.

I’ll be honest—I thought I wanted to teach math.

The ease of having a set program, where each next lesson was at my fingertips with the turn of the page, and grading was as simple as perusing a multiple choice exam as I marked right or wrong (misguided I know…) seemed much better than reading 50 essays (written by fourth graders, no less), the many hours spent lesson planning to find the perfectly succinct minilesson and mentor text for reading workshop (my district had recently done away with a basal reading program), and the daunting task of teaching reading, writing, grammar, and vocabulary in a way that would make these young minds love and want to read and write.

But who was I kidding?  I hated math as a student, and although I did enjoy teaching it, it was not my passion.  My books shelves were lined with professional books on how to teach guided reading, use literature circles in the classroom, and help struggling readers.  Every classroom resource I bought aligned to reading or writing instruction and I spent countless dollars at Scholastic to enhance my classroom library.

I was a literacy teacher, through and through.

Being able to focus largely on literacy gave me a great opportunity to hone my craft.  Reading, writing, grammar, and vocabulary became the air I breathed.  And I was hooked.

Over the years I read every professional book on literacy I could fit in, working around the very hectic, busy life of an elementary school teacher (My current to read pile is about 10 books high- you know how it is…).  I applied and worked for each district curriculum initiative that popped up and attended all the professional development opportunities I could.  I began to envision myself one day, down the line as becoming a literacy coach or staff developer.  My love for literacy was that strong and others began to see that strength and passion as well.

“One day” came a lot sooner than expected when a literacy coaching position opened within my district, and I threw my hat into the ring….

…And here I am.

I want to write to share what I’ve seen, heard, and learned from the wonderful people around me: teachers, staff developers, literacy professionals, and the gurus of our field.  I want to create a conversation about literacy learners and thinkers.  I want to support teachers as we work toward state and district demands and I want to provide a supply of current, engaging literacy instructional strategies.

But most of all I want to help foster classrooms where literacy is valued and loved.  Valued not only by the teachers who choose to be there with heart and soul each and every day, but by the students who walk through their doors. My goal as a classroom teacher, which is still my goal today, is to make EVERY student a reader.  A reader who has learned to love books.

Let’s keep the conversation going-