Month: October 2014

Three (Books) I Love This Week

1. On my trip to Barnes and Noble this past Saturday, I stumbled upon the book, Just Jake. image (3) It’s written like a diary but geared toward boys, so I knew my students would love it. I had to get it! Not to mention it was brand new and only $3 (yay B&N used section)!

The book is about Jake, a sixth grader, who is struggling to regain his social status in a new school. The pages are filled with Jake’s drawings, and surprisingly sensible bits of advice (or as Jake calls them, “Rules of Awesomeness”). Despite its preteen audience, I really enjoyed reading this! The best part? The author, Jake Marcionette, is only 12 years old! How amazing is that? I can’t wait to tell the students! You can read more about him on his website here.

2.  Another book I found in Barnes and Noble’s used section, is Amelia’s Notebook. When I found the two books side by side on the shelf, I was ecstatic! About a week ago, I wasimage telling my students about Amelia’s Notebook, because diary books are very popular right now. I told them that it was my favorite series when I was younger, and that I would try to find a few. I’m so happy that I did, and I will definitely be on the lookout for more! Does anyone else remember Amelia?


3. The last book is a book I’ve been reading, and I just can’t wait to tell you about it, even though I haven’t finished yet (halfway through is enough, right?). The book is called The Tipping Point, and I can’t stop talking about it to anyone who will listen. It’s filled with so much interesting information! The author, Malcom Gladwell, works towards explaining the main idea, the so-called Tipping Point (htumblr_ndxb4cMdpC1qawbmqo1_500ow something goes from nonexistent to an epidemic, or trend), through easy to understand sub-categories, and examples. From Hush Puppies, to the decline of the New York City crime rate, to the success of Blue’s Clues, Gladwell covers it all. I can’t wait to finish, then check out more of Gladwell’s books.

What are you reading right now?



Throw Away the Post-it Notes

Sometime during the first week of school, a student asked, “Are you going to make us do post-it notes?” I answered a simple no, which triggered an audible sigh of relief around the room, and a few thank you’s. I asked them to tell me why they didn’t like post-its and I braced myself for complaints of extra work, but instead, a student replied, “We just want to read.”

Over the summer, I read Nancie Atwell’s The Reading Zonelarge-5390b3c894dfbThe Reading Zone, and I found myself highlighting every other line. Nancie points out a simple idea that seems to have gotten lost in all of the post-it note clutter. The bare bones of it, is that we need to stop interrupting students from reading, and start making time for what Nancie calls, “the reading zone”. If you were to walk into a classroom that does Reader’s Workshop, you might see students with their independent reading books open, a pad of post-its at their side, and a pen in hand. Students are told to “stop and jot” text connections, tricky vocabulary words, cause and effect, etc. Looking at it passively, it seems like a great concept; but, what Nancie Atwell points out, and what I’m already noticing early on in my career, is that it makes kids hate reading. Atwell puts it in perspective, pointing out that we, as adult readers, wouldn’t want to stop in the middle of  a good book to write down how we can relate to a character. Stop and jot takes away from the largest part of why reading is so enjoyable: it lets us get lost.

Atwell presents a solution to all of this by introducing reading response letters (which are, in most basic terms, – very long post-it notes). I loved this idea so much that I have been working very hard to implement it in my own classroom. Starting the letters from scratch is a bit tricky – especially as a new teacher. While Nancie offers a lot of help and resources in her book, I needed to decide what was best for my class. I had to figure out when to collect them, how to grade them, what a good letter looked like, etc. — all this for 50+ kids (S.O.S.). I went back and forth on a lot of these, especially grading, but I’m happy with where it’s at now, and where it seems to be going. Here’s how it all panned out:

The first week I introduced the letters, it was a bit shaky. The students were confused and if I’m being honest, I was confused. But, I put on my “teacher face” and told the students we were going to learn and grow together (or something along those lines). For the first set of letters I collected all 50 journals and gave every student feedback. It was time-consuming, but definitely worth it. I have already seen an improvement in their second letters, and I finally gained some footing on how I wanted to grade. At first I intended to only grade a few letters each week using a rubric. However, I quickly realized that the rubric wasn’t the best, and that some students would inevitably feel like they were doing work for nothing.

So, here’s how I set up RRL’s now:

Students always know that their reading response letter is due on Friday. This allows them to manage their time, and complete it throughout the week. On Friday, they come in and trade notebooks with a partner to respond to their classmate’s RRL in at least one paragraph. By doing this, students get to peek at another writer’s work, and also get ideas for their next read. They write for about ten minutes, and then it’s silent reading time. During this time, I walk around to read and grade each of their letters on a check scale. While it took a lot of trial and error to come up with this, I’m really happy with the way it worked out. It’s a great way to check in with every student, and it also allows them a good chunk of quiet reading time. We talk frequently about what it feels like to be in the reading zone, and what you should do if you don’t like your book. Also, keeping in line with Nancie Atwell’s stress on teacher feedback, I collect a few journals each week to respond more thoughtfully to students letters. I did this for the first time last week, and it is amazing to see how eager they are to have their notebooks collected. They really do, just as adults, crave feedback.

So far, I feel really good about reading response letters, and I think the students do too (secretly, of course, they are middle schoolers).

Click the picture to purchase my RRL product on Teachers Pay Teachers


Hitting the Reset Button

At orientation a few weeks before school started, the speakers showed us the graph below to say295x201xphases_2.jpg.pagespeed.ic.GChG1LsPKS, “You’re not alone, this happens to everyone.” Most of us shrugged it off, feeling like October was years away, but now I’m realizing just how accurate this graph is. In what felt like a few days, I went from being really positive and on top of things, to feeling unmotivated and completely stressed. It’s all a bit overwhelming!

That being said, I’m starting to understand that while it’s important to focus on work, it’s equally important to take time for yourself. I know it’s hard to step away from your desk when you have so much to do (I’m very type-A), but sometimes it may actually be what you need to be productive. I’ve found that doing things that are good for my body and mind leaves me feeling much more rejuvenated and ready to get back to work, rather than a marathon of reality TV. So, here’s a list of relaxing, but productive, ways to reset.


  • Read a book, the newspaper, a magazine – anything!
  • Go to the gym or take a short walk (consider walking to the store instead of driving). You’ll be amazed at how even a small amount of exercise will improve your mood.
  • Create a blog, start a diary, or write that story you’ve been keeping in your head.51WAhDYHNcL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_ Need some ideas? I love the book “642 Things to Write About“!
  • Browse travel sites for a mental vacation. Become inspired to start saving money for your dream destination.
  • Meet for coffee with a friend and allow yourself to get lost in conversation for awhile. It may be a good idea, however, to give yourself a time limit, so that you don’t get carried away.
  • Paint, draw, or color – remember how good it feels to think about nothing more than staying inside the lines.
  • Yoga is always a good way to relax. Try the app, Yoga Studio, it’s my favorite!cid1217_2
  • Bake that dessert you’ve had pinned since last year.
  • Clip magazines and make an inspiration board. I update mine every time I need a long break, and I always end up feeling refreshed.



3 Things I Love This Week

1. “Like a Book” Thermal Mug by Kate Spade. I just ordered this, and I can’t wait for it to get here! How cute will it look on my desk!?Screen Shot 2014-10-15 at 5.04.21 PM If you sign up for Kate Spade’s mailing list, you’ll receive a code for 15% off your purchase (yay!).

2. “19 Socially Awkward Situations For People Who Are Always Early”. This buzzfeed article really hits home. I’m always early to everything, and when I’m not, I feel awful for being late! I especially love number 13…the struggle.

3. Michelle Obama dancing to Lil Jon’s “Turn Down For What”. I know the First Lady is probably going to get some negative backlash for this video, but I think it’s great; I love how relatable the Obama’s are. Aside from her recent vine, the First Lady has also made appearances on numerous children’s shows, like Sesame Street and iCarly. According to Daily Mail, Michelle Obama is “the most televised first lady in history”. Though the vine is funny, it was made for a good cause – healthy eating. The First Lady is behind the campaign, “Let’s Move!”, which is working to end childhood obesity by encouraging kids to exercise and eat healthy. You can find out more at



Princeton, New Jersey

It was the perfect day for a mini road trip, so my friend Claire and I headed to Princeton. We had planned to go apple picking, but the line was so long we went to Princeton University instead. The campus is beautiful, and the weather was just right! We wandered around for a bit, then grabbed some hot coco and pumpkin bread from a nearby Starbucks (delicious!) for a picnic on the lawn.
P.S. My shirt is from Lauren James, it’s so comfortable! Perfect for fall!


3 Things I Love This Week

  • New Girl. I don’t know what made me suddenly give this series another shot, but now that I have, I can’t. stop. watching. I watched a bit of season one a couple of years ago, but it never held my interest. A stroke of boredom (can you believenew-girl-season-3-620x330 I even have time to be bored?), led me to watch season two episode one, and I have been hooked ever since! The lightness of it makes for a good break between everything else I’m doing.
  • The Great Debate. I have been going over commas with the kids this week, so after our lesson I showed this video about the Oxford comma debate. It gets the point across without taking a particular side, and the cartoons are pretty laughable. (P.S. TED Lessons are amazing, I will definitely be using more of them!).
  • Loft. I have absolutely fallen in love with a clothing store. Whenever I’m in Loft I’m tempted to buy everything, but my wallet stops me (you’re a teacher, not a doctor, remember?). Everything is super comfortable, but also very work appropriate. I’ve had my eyes on a pair of boots for awhile and I”m currently kicking myself for not buying them when they had a  40% off everything sale. Speaking of sales, Loft has a a lot of them – so be sure to subscribe to the newsletter! *UPDATE! In the hours after I posted this, Loft announced 50% off the entire site. I finally bought the boots I have been wanting! Use code: OURTREAT, move quickly the sale ends tomorrow (10/9). Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 10.37.44 PMScreen Shot 2014-10-07 at 10.49.36 PMScreen Shot 2014-10-07 at 10.38.11 PMScreen Shot 2014-10-07 at 10.41.26 PM

Do What You Love

I feel like I haven’t posted in forever! With Back to School Night, observations, and SGO’s, the past week was nonstop. It was my first Back to School Night, so I was pretty nervous, but for the most part I think it went well. I even got a few, “You’re my son/daughter’s favorite teacher!”, which is really nice to hear when you put so much time into what you do.

I’ve been thinking a lot about time lately – how to balance it, when to compromise, and when to “ignore the clock”. I have probably mentioned before that I’ve wanted to be a teacher since I was in second grade. Now that I’m finally teaching, I have been dedicating nearly all of mrecite-20833--604341407-1b5s14ly time to it. At first it was really overwhelming to realize I wouldn’t have much free time anymore. However, as I got into more of a “groove”, I began to realize it doesn’t matter to me how busy I am, because I enjoy what I do. As cheesy as it may sound, when that struggling student has a lightbulb moment, or the girl who said she doesn’t like reading picks up a book and enjoys it – it makes all of the nights and weekends spent planning worth it.

What I’m getting at, is that you should find what you love and make time for it. As Steve Jobs said, work will take up a large part of your life, so don’t tread lightly on the idea of doing what you love. It should be the most important thing on your “to-do list”, to find the job that makes you happy. And if you’re not doing what you love, I’m a strong believer that it’s never too late to start over.