Literacy Roadtrip 2014: nErD Camp & Michigan Reading Association Summer Conference

Last week, I was so fortunate to have the opportunity to tour the beautiful state of Michigan—from Parma, down in the Southeast, to Mackinac Island, up off the North shore of Lake Huron—in order to share and connect with some incredibly dedicated educators.

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nErd Camp

Starting in Parma, I was invited to speak at Day One of nErd Camp 2014 on the topic of secondary writing. Lead by teachers, authors, and other education professionals, Day One included a handful of sessions on specific topics related to technology, writing, and reading. The second day was modeled similarly to other edcamps with the conference participants coming up with and leading the session topics in an spontaneous and organic fashion; however, the Nerdy Book Club takes the “unconference” format of edcamp and focuses again on all things literacy.

My session, “Demystifying Academic Writing,” took the work of some of our favorite writing gurus and broke down how to scaffold and differentiate academic writing for secondary students. We looked at high levels of support, like the two-paragraph model that Stu introduced me to a while back, and more independent levels of sophistication, like the They Say, I Say  templates from Graff and Birkenstein, that help guide students towards independent and intellectual writing.

Using one of my favorite Leonard Pitts’ Articles of the Week, we walked through the process I take with my students as they step away from casual, chatty tones and towards the language of scholars. If you’re interested in checking out the handout or the Prezi, you can follow the links here.


Follow Those Nerds!

What a joy it is to be a part of this energetic and engaged group of people! Even with all of the powerful connections we can make on Twitter and other online forums, I am always amazed at how face-to-face conferences can deepen these PLN relationships.  Each session brought new ideas and more book purchases. Across Day Two, I got to absorb how other high school teachers are able to adapt a workshop model to fit their classrooms. I got to soak up a crazy-long list of diverse books for diverse readers. I got to spill what it’s like to be a social studies teacher trying to “do” literacy with other non-ELA teachers.

I am so thankful to say that I am friends with the leadership team of Colby, Alaina, Suzanne, Brian, Niki, Kristin, Donalyn and so many more! Along with fellow Nerds, like Beth, Sarah, Jessica, Lindsay, Cindy, Greg, and Ann, they all make me a more reflective educator, considering the perspectives of readers and writers across grade levels, content areas, and background experiences. So, in lieu of a blogroll, I highly suggest that you follow these people via the splattering of blog links above, that is of course, if you do not already. Go on, get on it! 🙂


Ferry On

From Parma, I headed up through the gorgeous wooded landscape of Northern Michigan to ferry across the blue waters of Lake Huron before reaching picturesque Mackinac Island. The island, for those of you who haven’t yet visited, is a storybook setting, dotted with tasty fudge shops and art galleries and where the only transportation is from horse-drawn carriages and tandem bicycles. Serious, what better place is there to attend a literacy conference?

Gateway Books MRA 2014MRA Summer Lit. Conference

More intimate that the annual Michigan Reading Association conference in Grand Rapids, the MRA summer literacy conference gives participants a chance to slow down and connect with other educators instead of rushing across the city center to find a seat before the next keynote address.

As an adjunct faculty at Grand Valley State University, I was asked by the conference organizers, GVSU professors Liz Storey, Pam Page, and Nancy Patterson, to share some books and strategies that get adolescents enthused about reading.

My session, “Creating Hype with ‘Gateway’ Books & Strategies,” moved through methods of accountability in a choice reading workshop to many of the strategies I discuss in my “Tips for Getting Kids to Do More Choice Reading” blog series. The session also provided teachers with a list of the books that even my most defiant readers latch on to along with ideas about how to develop their own abundant, classroom libraries.

If you’re interested in the MRA Summer 2014 Handout or the Prezi, here are the links.

Page1 MRA Handout 2014

More Personal Connections

Like nErd Camp only a few days earlier, I was so energized by the personal connections to be made at these Michigan conferences. While I’ve been following Troy Hicks, author of  The Digital Writing Workshop and Because Digital Writing Matters, on Twitter way back to some of my earliest Tweets, this was my first opportunity to see him present. Interestingly, he was working to get more teachers engaged with online professional learning networks, in an effort to answer the question “How can social networking tools such as Twitter help you become a better teacher?”

As if he created a “guided instruction” model himself, we had the opportunity to further our online connection face-to-face after he graciously attended and live-tweeted from my session later that morning  (Thanks again, Troy!). 


Online and On the Road

What last week’s whirlwind literacy roadtrip reinforced for me is the importance of developing my PLN beyond the computer screen. In those isolating winter months, where my students seem to be the only faces I see, Twitter breaks down the barriers and allows me to connect with teachers across the globe and share my successes and frustrations. But when it comes to the warm, glorious months of summer vacation, I’m not one to sit back and forget about my classroom and the demands for next August. I realize that actually meeting up with my online community in the “real world” gives me energy and accountability for the work ahead of me. So, even if I’m driving solo up I-75 for fours hours with nothing more than audio book to keep me company, I’ll gladly take that as a convenient excuse to hit the road for some solid professional development.

Auf Wiedersehen

With that being said, starting this Friday, I’ll be hitting the road again! This time, I’m totally geeked to get my international PD passport stamped, as I was invited to join other social studies teachers as we study modern Germany for the next two weeks with the Goethe-Institut’s Transatlantic Outreach Program. We’ll be traveling throughout Munich, Geisa, Leipzig, and Berlin, learning about everything from the education and medical systems to historical and contemporary influences on society. I’m excited to share what I learn—both as I go and when I return—but in the meantime I haven’t much to say other than “Auf Wiedersehen!”




Whole-Class Novels vs. Choice-Only Reading: Part Three & Infographic

Responses to the “Whole-Class vs. Choice-Only Reading” survey are still rolling in. Thanks for all your help! If you haven’t responded or shared the survey yet, please do so. Even if you feel like your literacy approach is restricted based on the pressure of your department, district, or state standards, we’d love to have your voice included in the survey.

Interestingly—but rather unsurprisingly—when it comes to this “debate,” most of you B10LovesBooks readers find value in both sharing whole-class novels and promoting choice-reading. Theses voices calling for some balance—whatever our specific ratio might be for our classes—need to be present in the larger literacy community. 


I want to share some of the research on using both types of texts, but for now, it comes down to these big ideas:


1. Choice Reading encourages students to develop personal reader identities.

If a student can learn what types of texts he loves to read independently, the likelihood that he will develop long-term independent reading habits is so much greater than if he wasn’t provided any choice. Who we are as readers defines us beyond our years in school, so we need to help students understand this aspect of their individual development. From genre and topics to habits and unique choices, students need to figure out what they love and how they read best. This self-discovery not only helps them truly identify themselves, but it also invites an awareness to areas where can grow and might need support. 

2. Choice Reading encourages students to improve their stamina and fluency.

As with any passion that we’re developing, we need time to practice before we can be expected to do it with any ease or endurance. Malcolm Gladwell says that we need 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become an expert; therefore, to help our students’ stamina and fluency grow in the long-term, we need to get them reading as much as possible. My students and I always talk about developing these literacy skills within an analogy of marathon training. I can’t just expect to just show up ready to run the 26.2 with all the other racers without putting in miles and miles of training on my own, nor can I push myself as a runner to do hill sprints every day and think that rigor alone will prepare me for the big race or make want to even continue running when it’s all over.  In terms of this analogy, I don’t even need to get into the danger of skipping hills altogether for the sake of only doing “fun runs,” because, by now, even if you don’t follow #runteacherrun, you get the idea. 

3. Choice Reading encourages students to practice independent habits.

As adult readers, we know what it’s like be in the flow: to look up after we’ve read that last page, with tears still in our eyes, and notice that time has totally flown past us. As adult readers, we’ve developed habits independent of others in order to maintain (or at least attempt to control) our love of reading. Young readers are still learning how to manage their time, make plans for reading, engage in conversations with others, and find books on their own. Choice reading helps students develop these habits in the safe space of our classroom yet without the full on, high support of a shared text. 

4. Whole-Class books support students as they build a shared intellectual experience.

 When a learning community shares a text, they come together to share not just the plot and theme but a common, social experience.  With their unique skills and individual backgrounds, students can build a rich conversation and deep collective thinking that will move the community beyond the state of just a singular understanding to “Ah ha! I never thought about it that way!” Together, students and teachers can model their thinking and strategy use for one another all while navigating complexity within their larger, collective expertise. 

5. Whole-Class books support students meet the expectations of cultural literacy.

Outside of school, students will encounter all kinds of allusions to literature and references to informational texts. Already, in this post, I mentioned ideas from Gladwell’s Outliers. Now, if you’ve read this book yourself, you understand my reference on deeper level than those who haven’t yet it (Go and read! Seriously, see how geeked my kids were about it.) When we are in “the know” of cultural literacy, we can build deeper and wiser connections to each other and our world. Now, whether we share with our students texts that are “classics,” popular best-sellers, or otherwise, our students will have a richer, more fulfilling life if they are able to engage in conversations with others about the universal truths found in our society’s most valued books. Teachers can’t fool themselves and say that students will choose to read or understand these respected texts on their own. We need to share many of these important pieces with them in preparation for the rigors of college, career, and life beyond. 

6. Whole-Class books support students practice sustained engagement.

Within the Reader’s Bill of Rights, among other things, we have the freedom to abandon choice books. This is a liberty to celebrate certainly, but we all worry about that one student who doesn’t stick with a book long enough to maintain any real commitment. She floats from Sarah Dessen to Elizabeth Scott and Susane Colasanti and so on without reading more than 50 pages. She does this, because she doesn’t  have any the individual skills or teacher support that compels her to see it through to the end. In the same way, when teachers only share passages or excerpts of larger texts with their students, they remove opportunities to practice extended comprehension skills and examine fully developed literary craftsmanship. When we share whole-class texts with our students, together, we can focus on the content and examine the development of characters and craft over time.

7. Seeking balance supports students acquire character and non-cognitive skills.

If you’ve read any of my other posts in the last year, you know that I believe we need to help students develop their character and mindset in order to “promote long-term flourishing.” From the grit that it takes for my students to tackle Outliers in the fall to the self-control they need everyday (Lord, help them!) to cast aside their cell phones and delve into their choice books, we can use both choice reading and whole-class novels to present practice opportunities—or imaginary rehearsals—for students that go beyond literacy.

8. Seeking balance supports students broaden and deepen text exposure.

When we challenge our students with open-ended opportunities of choice reading, they can dig deeply into genres, authors, and topics of passion. Take Tristan for example: his “required genres” were all neatly colored in across the bottom of his Reading Invitation chart, but his haphazardly filled in Sci-Fi column towered up and over the backside of the paper, like a doomed Tetris game facing the end. At the same time though, I could help Tristan broaden what he thought was his only territory for reading by supporting him with whole-class texts. When we join our experiences around one shared piece, students are exposed again to genres, authors, and topics that they may not have consider alone but are willing to dive in with a strong community of readers.  

9. Seeking balance supports students learn with and from stronger readers.

In the world of disciplinary literacy,  all teachers must recognize that they are the best readers in the room, precisely because of our various subject backgrounds. As an ELA teacher, I cannot teach my sophomores to read a Bio lab report as well as their science teacher can. In the same way, I cannot expect to be the only “reading teacher” in my classroom. There becomes many expert readers in a class that has balanced approach of choice reading and whole-class novels. Yes, I can support my students understand craft and historical relevancy like no one else in the room,but I can’t do what many of my students can for one another: only Erich can speak widely with Austin about which WWII book more accurately describes the B-52 bombers, and Jaspar and Chaz are they only ones who can share how Columbine shifted their perspectives on mental health, and Gabby and Jakob could lead hour long lectures about the mythology allusions across Rick Riordan’s collection work. It when we come together and move apart on our own that our students can really flourish.

As I said, I want to break down each of these points further and connect you with some of the great research that supports these points, but I’m going to take a break from this series in order to share some work from my literacy roadtrip this week. So, if you’re new to B10LovesBooks and have found your way here thanks to nErD Camp or the Michigan Reading Association summer conference, welcome!

Tips for Getting Kids to Do More Choice Reading: Celebrate!

Some high school ELA teachers argue that there just isn’t time for choice reading.  They believe that students aren’t motivated to read outside of school.  Well, to that, I can only pass along my students’ pride and excitement:

How do you support your students as readers?  And what do you do celebrate your students’ reading successes?

Why Do I Stay in Education?

This week, Beth Shaum is asking teachers the big question of why they persist “despite educational policies that are having a deleterious effect on good teachers staying in the classroom.”

Here’s what makes me stay:

Check out what reasons motivate teacher across the country in Beth’s video embedded below.

Then, be sure to visit her blog



Nerdy Style: Summer Book Talks

While the stereotype resounds that most teachers “have their summers off,” I had the awesome opportunity to meet up with some Michigan #nerdybookclub tweeps at the home of  Colby Sharp. Colby invited us  to make a guest appearance on his blog, sharpread, and share some of our favorite summer reads.

I am so thankful for the opportunity to learn and grow with Niki Ohs BarnesShannon Houghton,  Travis Jonker, and Brian Wyzlic.