Wednesday, August 17, 2011


Looking for new resources, ideas, a virtual home to collaborate with teachers and find an incredible treasure trove of teacher-friendly tools?  Look now further than the new community at (if you go in on the home page, you'll look for this group in the community, under groups, subjects, language arts!

I'm honored to be selected as one of their initial group leaders (Language Arts K-12) and invite all of you to come on over and visit.  Set up a profile, jump into one of 6 or 7 threads already posted, share your ideas and learn from others.  Browse through the downloaded resources and hop over to for even more.

A SPECIAL PROMOTIONAL CONTEST:  Come back here and post your impressions, what you thought of the new networking and resource venue for educators and you'll be entered in a special drawing to win a 30 consultation with TLA, Inc. for you or your school.  If you are in central or northern AL, Atlanta or west in Georgia, south Tennessee, I'll come to you!  If you are elsewhere in the country the world of Skype can connect us for a terrific brainstorming session. 

Friday, March 25, 2011

Teachers ARE Sparklighters: Where Do They Get Their Spark?

Today I decided to do a quick post for teachers, highlighting what hopefully are some new resources you don't know about.  I believe great teachers today have to be creative, intuitive, and always on the lookout (and I want to help make that latter activity easlier). I thought it might be fun to share some resources with you, starting with my current hometown on Huntsville, AL

1)  The U.S. Space and Rocket Center.  Some of you may be interested in a field trip to Space Camp but even if you can't come with your class in person, they've put together a great set of resources for you:  Check out these teacher resources.

2) Do you know that Maupin House (the publisher of The Literacy Ambassador's two print books (Anytime Reading Readiness for parents of 3-6 year olds and the partner title, Before They Read, for educators working with children the same age), has a wealth of quick, free videos to watch from the talented pool of authors?  Check them out at:

3) Need a little encouragement and solid advice to motivate you?  Visit Inspiring Teachers.  From e-books, to advice for first time teachers, and those who have been around the block a few times, you're sure to find something there for you.

4) Hands on museums are always fun but many of them have online resources you can tap into as well like Exploratorium's Evidence website and of course the Smithsonian.  .

5)  Need supplies, materials or technology for your classroom?  Check out the Thinkquest competition.  The Deadline is April 24 for the year 2011.  Check their website for updates in future years.

Finally, don't forget how zoos can combine fun and learning.  Many have webcams so you can watch the animals live from your classroom and find fantastic online games for growing young brains.

I'd love to have your feedback.  Did you know about these resources?
Do you have others to share?

Monday, March 7, 2011

Off to Illinois . . .

I'm off to the Illinois Reading Council's Annual Conference next week (March 17-19) to present (The BIG Picture of Reading and Engaged Interactive Read Aloud).  Good thing I haven't put away my winter coat!  This year's theme is Literacy Outside the Box.  They have even set up a blog you can go to for the latest on the upcoming meeting. 

Do you ever feel like you are "inside a box" as an educator?  Are you looking for ways to improve your teaching that are liberating, freeing, challenging for you and your students? (do you secretly want to be more "outside the box"?)  This will be a great place to get ideas and get energized.   Think BIG! (And by the way, if you know educators or reading advocates who live in Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Kentucky or Wisconsin, be sure to share this blog with them).

Just a few ideas to start you thinking when I'm traveling to Illinois:

1) March 4, 2011 marked an historic day in the world of reading - World Book Night in London - readings, sharings, free book giveaways, book clubs, and more.  You could each have your own World of Reading Day, highlighting the power of books read individually and shared. 

2) March 7, 2011 kicks off the 2011 Tournament of Books, a March Madness-style competition.  Although this is an adult competition, you can find plenty of ideas for creating your own tournament of books at a school or library.  A cool book/journal to keep track of reading,  your own March Madness of books with student recommendations and voting, culminating in a Champion Book of the Year; use of technology to get down to the Sweet Sixteen with online voting, tweeting, etc.; honorable judges from the community, etc.

3) Appalachian State University (in the NC mountains, a former teacher's college) has a great new tradition,. Summer Reading Club.  Why not start your own version by providing the same book to every student in a class or grade as they go home for the summer?  Set up blogs, wikis, a Facebook page, or other media to communicate about the book over the summer and raise the excitement.  Ask students to identify other books that connect to the chosen on and build a reading chain for the summer to choose from.  Involve your media specialist and local public librarian in creating a reading chain and sharing it with students as they interact with libraries (school or public) during the summer months.  Here's an example of a reading chain:

Diary of a Wimpy Kid (out in a movie 3/25/2011) - there is a series of these titles by Jeff Kenny
Dork Diaries by Rachael Russell.
The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot
Horse Diaries by Meg Cabot


The Lucky Baseball by Suzanne Lieurance
Lucky:  Maris, Mantle and the Best Summer Ever by Wes Tooke
Keeping Score by Linda Sue Park
Boy of Steel by Ray Negron

Make your own!

Remember that choice is a key factor in whether children will become engaged in reading.  If you'd like to learn more, read about the research of Guthrie and Morgan and Fuchs.

I'd love to meet you!

If you are attending the IL Reading Council event, please come join my sessions on March 17 (8-9AM, 9:15-10:15AM, and 1:45-2:45pm (with autographing of Anytime Reading Readiness and Before They Read, for parents and educators of 3-6 year olds respectively immediately following the 10;15AM and 2:45PM sessions).  What I find with my interactive style of presentation is a richness coming from the experienced folks in the audience.  It really adds to the content and keeps things interesting.   I also promise, as always, there will be plenty of resources and a fine, fun time.  After all, anytime we talk about reading should be an enthusiastic event, right?

Post a comment here to let me know your thoughts about any of this posting or just a "hey, see you at the conference"!  Your words are always welcome.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

After Too Long An Absence . . .

Greetings from sunny Tampa and the National Title I Conference!

I'm pleased to say that family engagement is a hot topic this year at this conference and so it should be.  In addition to my session, Families and Educators:  A Joint Book Club Concept, there are at least five other presenters who are helping Title I teachers and other Title I staff attending to understand best practices and get a handle on this idea of authentically partnering with parents.


What I see happen too many times:

1) Educators and parents "in charge" (such as PTA/PTO leadership) don't take the time to talk to your average, every-day parent (the involved and the not involved).  Making them a part of the solution is essential!

2) Professional educators trying to teach families how to do the "academic stuff" that those teachers are teaching children in the classroom (and that those teachers went to school multiple years to master).  You may have some families interested in that, but I guarantee you are limiting your family engagement if you take that approach.  Use your curriculum mapping to look for complementary practical "real-life" activities you can involve families in, rather than duplication of academic practice.  You'll engage many more moms, dads, grandmas, uncles and community members AND children will hear the important message that LEARNING HAPPENS EVERYWHERE, NOT JUST AT SCHOOL.

Get Involved in the Conversation!

I'd love to hear from all of you out there (both attendees at this important conference and those who are "holding down the forts") on these questions:

1) What is the MOST EFFECTIVE family engagement activity/strategy you EVER saw work at your school?  What made it successful?

2) Why do you think parents aren't involved with their children's learning? 

You can add more insight by responding to a brief survey online.  Its findings will be the beginning of a new book on this important subject . . .

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Meet Teacher and Entrepreneaur, Ellen Richard - The Topic is Writing and Spelling

Via the Internet, I recently met an amazing teacher and innovative entrepreneur and she has some terrific ideas so I asked her to post a guest blog.  Here she is with her husband and their new baby (Ellen took a bit of time off from teaching when their baby was born and she put her educator energies to good use).  I've also posted similar comments on this subject at my blog for parents so feel free to share it with moms and dads, grandmas, uncles and other family members who interact with young children.  So without further adieu, here's Ellen:

I think we'd all agree as teachers that spelling is tough.  But, as a teacher from down in the trenches, I can tell anyone that demanding that kids write the same words over and over and over again is not the most productive use of your or the children's time.  Smart teachers have shifted away from rote memorization and endless tracing of inconsequential spelling lists and, instead, are spending their time figuring out ways to engage students.  It's my experience that kids who truly are excited about any subject matter learn more and learn it faster.  So how do we get them excited about spelling?

A Sidebar of Sorts

Before we talk about that, I want to digress for a moment and talk about students who have issues memorizing (there are many out there, not even counting those with identified learning disabilities).  You know at least one student like this I'm sure and they are in a real pickle.  There is no context for the words and there are no connections made.  Now, in all fairness, sometimes the spelling words provided by the textbook you use rhyme, but more often than not, they are just a group of words that a publisher of curriculum happens to think were appropriate for students at that grade level.  One size doesn't fit all.  There are so many kids whose brains just work a little differently and, for those kids, spelling can be a huge problem.

Now back to the question:  
How do we get them excited about spelling?

It starts with authentic learning experiences.

Kids need engagement in what they are doing.  They need to see how and why spelling is so important.   When we write something important, something we want to communicate, proper spelling is the common ground that helps our readers understand what we want them to know or feel or "get".  Tracing a list of words does not help students make essential connections that they need to make to learn how to spell words, or retain that information.   It doesn't help them be able to communicate clearly.


I believe it's just fine to have young kids trace words to help them learn how to spell but here's the catch -- the words have to be meaningful.  A list of random words is not meaningful.  A letter to a friend, on the other hand, often is.  A story written by the child himself is meaningful.  An article about the child's favorite sport or musician is meaningful.  It's our job as educators to find out what interests our students so we can help them make those connections.

You can certainly use the tracing idea and even get a few volunteers from among your parents to help you create the "traceable" letters with a handmade dotted font like you see in the photo below.  Students can dictate a few sentences or a short story and the volunteer or teachers writes what they say in the dotted font.  Then, when that student is excited about the story he has "written", allow him to trace over the dotted font to write his story and then have him read it to you.  He will probably want to do it more than once or even take it home to share.  Offer this as an alternative at times to standard composition.  Both practicing spelling and handwriting AND composing are important in the development of young writers.


While I was home on maternity leave this past January, I realized that I could turn a very simple idea I had used in the classroom for a long time (having children trace meaningful words) to help both with spelling and handwriting.  With a little practice and the idea of hand-written cards, I came up with Letter Learning.  I missed teaching and had a million thank you cards to write.  Because both of these things were on my mind, the idea for educational greeting cards was born. 

I remembered how my own students struggled often with spelling and handwriting, and knew how much they loved their family and friends.  I also knew that young kids love to be "like Mom" and since 80% of greeting cards are sent by women, so it seemed that greeting cards that help kids learn to write and spell was a long overdue instrument.  Here's an example of what one of my cards looks like on the outside:

With the fun colorful pictures on the front and dotted line guides, kids love them!

Thanks, Ellen, for the great ideas. 


I'd love to hear how you work with young children to engage them in spelling and practicing their handwriting.  Do you have budding authors in your kindergarten classroom?   Preschool children who are just learning to print?  Students in first or second grade who are still learning how to spell many words? 

What are your most effective ideas?  Sharing them in a comment post will help us all be better teachers.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Summer Assigned Reading

 Calling All Teachers:  I Need To Hear Your Voice

Since the school year finished, I've been hearing lots of complaints from families about assigned reading taking all the fun out of summer experiences with books.  There are two camps:

1) the parents who kids love to read and will read all summer but feel "constrained" by a book list, required reports to "prove" their reading or assignments during the vacation months.  These moms and dads are telling me that making reading an "assignment" creates an environment where children see it as a chore rather than an adventure.

2) families who don't have a personal connection to the importance of reading for recreation during the summer to protect the reading gains a child has experienced during the school year.  For these families, reading is also a labor, not a pleasure, an assigned task that someone always seems to slip through the cracks with other time demands and distractions.

What Do Researchers and Experts Say?

There are several studies relating to this topic but one I find helpful in addressing our first group is from the American Library Association.   Their findings took into consideration both teacher and student perspective.  This study also provides insight into the use of technology. 

Did you know that there is a research brief on a website called   These ideas began at John Hopkins and you'll find plenty here to raise your level of understanding.  And June 21 of this year, they are sponsoring a Summer Learning Day.  You can visit their website and share your ideas or read to the end of this blog where you'll find a free, grassroots way to touch a child.

Reading is Fundamental, so often in touch with the communities that surround our at-risk populations also comes through with an interesting article entitled A Primer on Summer Learning Loss.  What I appreciated in this article are not only the statistics about summer reading loss which we all know too well but the solutions framed from real schools and school districts.  Duplicating best practices for those who have gone before us AND been successful is one of the best resources we have.

Kids are making a splash with reading in Kansas this summer.  I think any student would find at least one activity at their local library that they would enjoy.

Even Michelle Obama is speaking up on this issue.  Regardless of her husband's politics, she's taking her stand against obesity and pairing it with the idea that summertime is reading time.  Learn more about her support of United We Serve's Let's Read, Let's Move initiative.

Here's a novel idea:  take the ideas from this research and make them a part of a short "mini-study" for yourself, a personal investment in your own professional development this summer.  It will put you in a position to positively impact the summer slump next year.  Set yourself up to start planning to prevent the summer slump at the beginning of the school year.  Make it your goal to not only teach all the strategies and skills but to help your children fall in love with reading and find the book that will get them hooked.

How Do We "Make" Them Want to Read?

I really believe the answers lie in the arena of motivation.  We must give children an authentic, a good reason to read when they are outside the academic arena.  That's why I love Donalyn Miller's approach during her instructional year (you can learn about it in her book, The Book Whisperer and her blog).  She begins working toward summer reading the first day of school by daily crafting her instruction so she builds that key motivation all year long.  She listens to their voices and learns herself how to more strongly motivate students from year to year.  Any student  is much more likely to read if he or she has been in the habit and found it enjoyable and stimulating throughout the school year.  Unfortunately, we seem to separate these key ideas more and more as we become more "curriculum driven" in the classroom.  Don't get me wrong: curricula are good tools but we cannot ignore the motivational piece of the puzzle.  We don't seem to think much about summer reading until it's time for the school year to end.

Answering the question: "why should I read anyway?" honestly and, for our more at-risk students, with a certain level of support, is essential.  Too many "checks" or "requirements" can take the fun out of reading and demotivate rather than motivate. 

But If We Don't Make Reading Assignments, How Are We Going To Know If They Read?

What is your answer to this question?  I'd love your take on your personal experiences with assigned summer readin's effectiveness and the research you have seen (if any) on this subject. What does your specific school or district do ? What would you say to one or both of these families when you send home the "required" reading lists?  Do we have an authentic answer?


If you are on Facebook, I invite you to visit The Literacy Ambassador's K-6 Summer Challenge cause page and take up the challenge of finding a child to turn on with a book this summer. 

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Teachers - Light Your Spark with Families for the Summer Months

Let's Keep Them "In the Pool"

We all know how important the summer months can be for students.  With little stimulation or opportunity, they can lose more than 3 months' progress during the time they are away from school.  Today's post will share resources and information on how you can use these last few weeks to impact summer learning.

I'll begin with a wonderful list of articles, websites, and research from the the State Library of Alaska.  You will find familiar names like Dr. Richard Allington and Steve Kreshan and a few new ones there. 

Here are a few more tools for supporting and encouraging students to read during the summer:

Connect with your local library and other organizations that may be promoting reading with school aged children in your community (booksellers like Amazon and Barnes and Nobles are on board).  Find out what they are doing and publicize those activities and resources with students and families.   My own local library, Huntsville/Madison County Public Library (AL), is offering an End of the Year Summer Reading Party!

Make reading a social event.  Give your students a few extra minutes every day to talk about what they are reading.  Use colorful, florescent index cards or post its and create a cool "What's HOT?" bulletin board. 

Blog or text with your students about what you and they are reading (and viewing) this summer.  You'll need parent permission, but even a core group can make a difference.  I know that you want to be "away" for a while just like the students do but a small investment can yield big dividends.  Set a few guidelines such as how often to post and encourage the online conversation to weave between story lines and characters and what your students are doing during their summer vacation.  You might even see some text to self and text to world connections and squeeze in a bit of authentic writing practice!

Get Families Involved

Families may not understand what can be lost during the summer without reading and writing.  Be sure you share with them a few bits of information and some encouraging resources.  Check out Summer Reading to help moms and dads, grandparents, and caregivers tap into the joy, exploration and fun of reading.

Explore the Internet as a Source for Engaged Reading

Hook reading to the Internet!  PBS, Scholastic, and The Collaborative Summer Library Program (an initiative in Minnesota) have all provided online resources and fun stuff to connect to reading. 

ALERT!  Our Voices Need to Be Heard Now

Finally, I 'm asking families to support educators through my blog for parents this week   I'd encourage you to visit and see how you can communicate to your congressmen and representatives in your state about an important amendment being added to the current jobs bill.  It affects your directly!  Letters and sharing need to happen before Tuesday, May 25, as that is the day the amendment will be voted on.  Visit my parent blog and you'll find out more.  While you are there, share the link with families through your classroom newsletter.  They'll be a part of an important "voice of the people" AND find lots of family-friendly resources and ideas for encouraging reading with kids of all ages.