Reading Teacher Writes

Sharing a love of literacy with fellow readers and writers


SOLSC Day 31: It’s Over?

Slice of Life Small LogoTHANK YOU to the ladies at Two Writing Teachers ( for hosting the AWESOME March Slice of Life Story Challenge! It’s over already?

It’s Over?

March has 31 days, but it sure seemed like this March has come and gone in the blink of an eye! I find myself thinking, “It’s over?” Missing 3 out of the 31 days makes me feel a little disappointed in myself, but I did my best. More importantly, I’ve met some new bloggers, kept in touch with some pals from the past, read some awesome slices, written a few decent posts, and had a great time! Thanks again to our wonderful hosts at Two Writing Teachers!

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own, and you know what you know. And you are the guy who’ll decide where to go.” 

Dr. Seuss

We are on our own now, and we’ve learned a lot. I hope you will keep in touch on your blogs! Maybe we can even steer in the direction to meet soon. I decided to go to ILA, Writing in Warsaw, and Boothbay, Maine! (I am dreaming. Maybe dreams DO come true.) Keep dreaming, hoping, and…writing! I’ll be there to read your stuff.





SOLSC Day 29: Not Yet

Slice of Life Small LogoThank you to the ladies at Two Writing Teachers ( for hosting the March Slice of Life Story Challenge!

Not Yet

My granddaughter says, “Not yet” when she wants to stall, avoid, or wait a few minutes. I’m thinking of her tonight, as I wait impatiently for spring break.

Should I make lunch now? Not yet.

Should I get the laundry done? Not yet.

Should we get some spring clothes and bathing suits ready for the trip? Yes, we should!

Should I make dinner? Not yet. We have to drop off the car first. Maintenance day Monday!

Should I go to bed? Not yet. I have to see if the Notre Dame women’s basketball team wins.

Have a great week everyone! If you’re going back to work tomorrow, take it easy and have a low-key day. If you are on spring break, have a blast! If you’re waiting for spring break, like me, remember: “patience is a virtue.”


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SOLSC Day 28: Not What We Wanted

Slice of Life Small LogoThank you to the ladies at Two Writing Teachers ( for hosting the March Slice of Life Story Challenge!

Not What We Wanted

Well, Notre Dame lost in the Elite Eight. That’s ok. They almost beat #1 Kentucky. They played tough, earning the respect of the country. They lost by only 2 points. Not what we wanted.

My granddaughter called me earlier. She was “sad.” “Mommy’s watching her show, but I wanna watch my show.” (Mommy in the background: “You watched your shows all day.”) Aw, that’s ok. I told her, “Let Mommy watch her show this time.” She cried, “Nooo!” Not what she wanted.

Sometimes we don’t get what we want. There’s always something else to make up for the loss. I wanted to go to New York today for the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project Saturday Reunion. I wasn’t able to attend; the schedule just wouldn’t work this spring. Not what I wanted. That’s ok. I got to spend time at home — relaxing, visiting family members in person and via phone, and enjoying my day on Twitter (following the reunion, of course).

To all those TCRWP teachers: send me your notes! 🙂


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SOLSC Day 27: Weekend!

Slice of Life Small LogoThank you to the ladies at Two Writing Teachers ( for hosting the March Slice of Life Story Challenge!


Just sat down for the night. Wait…the laundry is still in the dryer!

Irish are going to win (maybe?)…We couldn’t squeal any higher!

One kid packed for Florida, the other one waiting until next week.

Dog is barking and crying; can’t find enough food to eat…still trying to seek.

So tired from the long day, but I’m happy to say…I got my writing post in on time…Hooray!

(Good night!)


SOLSC Day 26: Spring Plans

Slice of Life Small LogoThank you to the ladies at Two Writing Teachers ( for hosting the March Slice of Life Story Challenge!

Spring Plans

Spring brings about change — in weather, in activities, in attitude. This spring I have several plans. Let’s call this my public “to-do” list:

* Clean this house! My OLW (One Little Word) this year is LEAN. I want to keep decluttering; I’m getting there.

* Spruce up and repair the outside. We need some maintenance on the house, especially since all of our gates along the fence are broken. Planting flowers would add some much-needed color to our house.

* Travel: spring break in Florida, coming right up! Yay! I cannot wait to experience some of those wonderful rays of sun and the pool.

* Exercise outside. This is the perfect time of year to set new goals for my LEAN body. I want to work out with the track team at the school’s track. I can’t run (knees), but I could sure do for some brisk walks. My husband plays softball, so maybe I could help him warm up by playing catch or fielding some softballs during the team’s practices.

* Get ready for SUMMER! I hope to stay active this summer. It’s so much better for the mind, body, and soul. No more sicknesses!

Now that I’ve written it down, it should all happen. Let’s see if this strategy works.


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SOLSC Day 25: Making Sense of Sentences

Slice of Life Small LogoThank you to the ladies at Two Writing Teachers ( for hosting the March Slice of Life Story Challenge!

Making Sense of Sentences

I read “Let’s Get Higher Scores on These New Assessments” by Timothy Shanahan in this month’s issue of The Reading Teacher (published by ILA). The journal really hit the spot with me in March. My school is so wrapped up with raising test scores that it’s easy to get sucked into the “test prep” mode of teaching. Every year it happens: “What are you going to do to prepare for ISTEP?” Well…I’m going to teach my students to read, to think, and to show what they know. I’ve never been one for “test prep” strategies, such as workbooks of reading passages with attached comprehension questions, written by testing companies to supposedly get kids to higher achievement levels. I know they don’t work; I’ve known for years. Shanahan stated, “The problem with this very popular approach is that it doesn’t work…It’s as effective as pushing the elevator button multiple times to hurry it along or turning the thermostat to 90 degrees to make a room warm up faster.” (460)

What does work, then, when it comes to passing standardized tests? Shanahan recommends teaching students to tackle those reading passages in a manner that will help them to show what they know. Once students know how to play the testing game better– once they have clear strategies that work — they can perform better. These approaches will help students to take action when they don’t understand. Students can have some control and power over these readings, and face their demons head on. One of the strategies is to teach students to “make sense of sentences.” This basic sentence know-how will help students to achieve.

First, students should read the difficult sentence and ask a couple of questions: 1) Who is involved? and  2) What is happening? I remember learning The Shurley Method 20 years ago. The “Question-and-Answer Flow” had students ask (after reading the sentence): “Who or What is (doing the action)?” Then they ask: “What is being said about (the “Who” or “What”)? For example:

The young boy ran quickly.

“Who ran quickly?” (The boy)      “What is being said about boy?” (he ran quickly)

This is a very basic account of The Shurley Method; there’s much more to the question-and-answer flow. My point (and Shanahan’s premise) is that once students know how sentences work, they can figure out what the sentences are telling them, and, therefore, answer questions and comprehend more easily.

Another strategy is to teach students how to take sentences apart in meaningful ways. In the example above, students can use the questioning strategies to help them to find the subjects and verbs. When moving to longer sentences, Shanahan noted that students can “break a sentence up at the punctuation points and at words like and, or, and that.” (461) Commas in sentences have a purpose; knowing how to break the parts down, and then reconnect them, aids comprehension. The article used a long sentence, as would a standardized testing passage. For my purposes here, I’ll use a passage from our current social studies textbook,The Western World:

“Italy remained divided into small states until the mid-1800s. At that time, a rise in nationalism, or strong patriotic feelings for a country, led people across Italy to fight for unification. As a result of their efforts, Italy became a unified kingdom in 1861.” (Holt McDougal, 531)

In this passage, “nationalism” IS “strong patriotic feelings for a country” (vocabulary). Once students know how to break up the vocabulary word from its appositive, they understand that the sentence actually defines the word, and then sentence as a whole becomes easier to handle. The last sentence has a dependent clause: “As a result of their efforts…” A student should say, “What? What is the result?” They can look for the “finish” at the end of the passage.

Shanahan presented more techniques in the article; I’m using his guidance for my mini lessons. Teachers can teach students ways to read text so that they understand and can help themselves towards success. When teachers teach the transferable strategies of reading, students will learn. “Test prep” then becomes “reading prep” or “learning prep” — something that the students can use every day of their lives, and not just on tests. Timothy Shanahan provided instructors with sensible methods to help students become stronger readers. He mentioned a few excellent strategies; I chose “making sense of sentences” for this post, because that’s what I’m currently doing with my students. I hope to see students’ standardized test scores improve, of course. I really hope my students will use their new-found knowledge to become strong, life-long readers and learners. A teacher can only teach, and hope.


SOLSC Day 24: Reader, or Writer?

Slice of Life Small LogoThank you to the ladies at Two Writing Teachers ( for hosting the March Slice of Life Story Challenge!

Reader, or Writer?

Today I feel more like a reader than a writer. I’ve read some fabulous posts on interesting SOLSC blogs. Thank you for sharing your stories with us! All of you are so inspiring and thoughtful with your words. I really want to read today, and not write. I’ll write about my “to do” reading:

Finish: Things a Little Bird Told Me by Biz Stone, co-creator of Twitter. (This guy is amazing!)

Read Again: Brown Girl Dreaming (Woodson), Charlotte’s Web (White), Sisters (Telgemeier), The Tiger Rising (DiCamillo), and Divergent (Roth)

Read the First Time: Turn Right at Machu Picchu (Adams), The Crossover (Alexander), Echo (Muñoz Ryan), Fish in a Tree (Hunt), there are so many titles! If I listed the rest of my books on my shelves I want to read, I’d be here until midnight!

I’d rather go back to reading. Please excuse me. Good night!




SOLSC Day 23: Poor Birds!

Slice of Life Small LogoThank you to the ladies at Two Writing Teachers ( for hosting the March Slice of Life Story Challenge!

Poor Birds!

I left school today depressed because of all the snow on the ground — again! Walking out the front doors, I looked and saw…some really FAT robins, hopping around in the parking lot. Poor birds! They must be so confused!

Poor birds in the snow, freezing

stupid snow again

When will we get back to spring?



Then I thought about something my mom said a long time ago; God will provide. So true! My depression turned to hope. If God can take care of these obviously needy birds, and he provides us a nice, warm home, then what do I have to do? Turn my frown around!

That’s just what I did!


SOLSC Day 22: The Best Interest of Students

Slice of Life Small LogoThank you to the ladies at Two Writing Teachers ( for hosting the March Slice of Life Story Challenge!

The Best Interest of Students

I listened to a podcast today where Kelly Gallagher talked about his new book, In the Best Interest of Students. (Of course, I’m waiting for my copy!) In the first minute of the interview, Kelly addressed a problem with the Common Core State Standards, and I agreed. He stated that (for high school) the standards are actually quite good. (There is mention that the lower elementary grade teachers don’t seem to think that CCSS is good because they are not developmentally appropriate; since I am a middle school teacher, I’ll leave that for a different discussion.) This part of the podcast focused on “Lesson 2: Recognize the Standards by themselves are necessary, but insufficient.” Kelly explained: “The problem is, you can write down any standards on a piece of paper, but that doesn’t ensure what happens inside our classrooms when the bell rings.”

The lightbulb switched ON in my brain. Yes! I have my set of standards (although mine are Indiana State Standards) and my teaching plan, but if I don’t connect with the students, if I don’t teach them, and they don’t learn, then those standards mean nothing. One of our classroom walkthrough points for administrators (on teacher evaluation checklists) is that teachers should post the standards in the classroom and refer to them, so students will know what is expected.  I don’t mind. I typed them out and posted them on a bulletin board, and I showed them to the students. But we must not stop there! If my administrator checks that box (“Standards Posted in Classroom” or whatever it says), that doesn’t mean I’ve taught those standards. That doesn’t mean the students are learning them.

Teachers need to show students the purpose of deep learning — why those standards should matter to them. I’m thinking of a simple standard: “Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English: capitalization, punctuation, and spelling…” Just because those words are displayed in my room doesn’t mean I teach them. And how should I teach that standard, anyway? With DOL sentences? Just as I was thinking about that, Jeff Anderson showed up in my Twitter feed. “I call DOLs & their ilk ‘correct alls’ because you get the same result as you would if you took a Correct All.” LOL! No, I don’t use DOLs. They don’t work.  My students can state any error in any sentence, and correct the sentence, in isolation. They do NOT practice capitalization and punctuation in their own writing. Jeff Anderson’s books are still my favorite mentor texts for teaching grammar and writing: Mechanically Inclined and Everyday Editing. If you want your work published, you HAVE to capitalize the “I.” (It takes the place of your name. Names are capitalized because they are very important and specific.) You HAVE to show the reader where your thought ends. (Period) Right? (Question mark) Your voice comes through your writing in the form of punctuation. Do you want to pause? How long? Use a comma, dash, ellipses, depending on the voice and tone you want to convey.

Back to the podcast: Teachers must teach the standards so students will learn (notice how I’m NOT saying, “so students will achieve high scores“). In practice. Every day. Out there in the real world. School is a place for learning and growing; if the “necessary” Common Core State Standards stop at the classroom bulletin board, then they are “insufficient.” And that is not in the “best interest of students.”

(The podcast mentioned is from Ed Talk with Dr. Bob Bravo, Interview with Kelly Gallagher, Monday Night Live, 3/9/2015. You can hear it on ITunes.)


SOLSC Day 21: Skipping

Slice of Life Small LogoThank you to the ladies at Two Writing Teachers ( for hosting the March Slice of Life Story Challenge!


The older you get, the more deeply words affect you. Think of the word “skipping.” When you are young, you learn to crawl, walk, and skip. Skipping is happiness. Skipping is innocence. Skipping is laughter.

Then you grow into adolescence. You’re a rebel. You don’t follow rules; you try activities that prove you are independent. Skipping is hiding (in the school bathroom — “cutting class.”). Skipping is fiddling. Skipping is secrecy. The connotation of the word shifts to a more negative tone than in the “good ol’ days.”

As an adult, skipping becomes more consequential. Skipping work equals unemployment. Skipping a red light means high-cost ticket. Skipping is illegal. Skipping is corruption. Skipping is guilt.  I’m sorry I skipped out on posting yesterday. Another failed day of the challenge, too tired to stand up, too busy to write.

Skipping is bad news!