Category Archives: Presentations

Giving Thanks: NCTE 2016 and a Plate Full of Passion

The season is upon us, boys and girls. A time for calls to the Butterball Hotline (1-800-BUTTERBALL if you need it). A time to smile at Grandpa’s snoring after dinner. A time for gifts and giving and  possibly some figgy pudding.

After my first trip to the Annual NCTE conference, it’s also a time to be thankful.

It’s difficult for me to put into words how thankful I am for the opportunity to meet with and learn from so many amazing educators.

Amy, Shana, and Jackie, presenting with you was an incredible experience. Your passion and expertise around workshop is a gift that I will take back to my department as we continue our own workshop journey. Your believe in the power of choice, challenge, reading, writing, and speaking makes this shift in delivery easier and more rewarding each day.  ncte-1

Beyond our own presentation, the sessions we attended have my heart and mind bursting with enthusiasm for the work we do with kids. I am watching some of them read right now (I promise to confer in a moment) and the promise that they hold is the reason for all of this. NCTE 2016 refocused my attention on the core of my purpose in the classroom…to inspire connections. Connections to one another, to great texts, to authors, to the written word, to what they believe in.

As if that weren’t enough, the past few days has me thankful for:

Spending time with like-minded professionals.

My girl Shana Karnes introduced me to this phrasing over the weekend. Spending time with people who are pursuing a common goal is enriching, invigorating, and downright fun.

ncte-8My weekend started when I met Winifred as we were in line to pick up registration materials. One of the Coordinators for Special Education Services in Georgia, Winifred and I got to talking about her garden. She pulled out her phone and showed me a video of her abundant harvest and we talked about trips planned around picking your own food right off the tree/vine/stalk. She showed me pictures of her fiance, as she is getting married after being widowed for years, pictures of her grandchildren, and her salmon on the grill.

And then we talked about hope for the future (left turn). Using the opportunity of the weekend to fuel our hope around the power of education. Well, if Winifred’s passionate character is any indication of even half the educators this country employs, I have renewed hope too.

Then, this fangirl met some of the biggest names in education. Amy and Shana introduced me to Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher.

I sat between them at a table and had a cocktail. 

I repeat.

I casually chatted with Penny and Kelly (Can I say that? It feels weird), like I belonged there. Like I had anything of value to contribute to conversation.

And yet…once I got over my shock and awe at where I was sitting and who I was sitting with, Penny and I talked about the work I’m helping to lead in moving the Franklin High School English department to workshop. Kelly and I talked about the power of promoting educational philosophy and policy while still in the classroom, working each and every day with students in order to refine our own craft and reinforce our philosophies for the betterment of our kids.

When thought that benefits the advancement of students becomes purposeful practice, magical things can happen.

Maybe it was the Moscow Mule I was sipping, or maybe it was the fangirl phenomenon, but sitting with those great thinkers and discussing what’s best for kids, may be the professional development highlight of my career so far.

The Opportunity to Hear from Passionate Voices Who Support Our Work 

Over the course of the past several months, we have all dealt with division on a daily basis in a ways that feel intensified and frankly, frightening. Understandably, this is something many of our students have intensely felt too, some for a very long time.

During a session on Equality in Education, Cornelius Minor (who proclaimed himself a black nerd, but I think he might be one of the most powerfully tolerant and inspiring voices of our time – in fact, I hugged him after his session) suggested that it’s our job as educators to teach children how to “maintain partnerships” in order to “define our culture.” Among countless other profound and inspiring quotes from that session, this stuck with me.

My job as a teacher can be defined in countless ways: facilitator, psychologist, content specialist, reader, writer, engineer, surrogate mom, cheerleader, conflict resolution specialist, event coordinator, nurse, lesson planner, assessor, tour guide, bookkeeper, data systems specialist, actor, career counselor, bailiff.

But, at the moment, advocate is my personal goal. In my humble opinion, as teachers, we are charged with shaping the future (no small task), so the partnerships we build with students and the partnerships we help them create with one another, might be some of the very best work we can do to promote social change and unity.

I’ve long advocated for students to be readers and writers. In the workshop model, I’ve learned that choice and challenge are additional areas of advocacy I can promote.

However, teaching my students to advocate for themselves, as informed, collaborative, and responsible citizens is my most important task right now, and it starts with building partnerships that bring us together to work toward common goals of kindness, respect, and the respectful promotion of educated opinions.

The insights of incredible thinkers

Can I name drop, for a minute? Before I left for NCTE 2016, my best friend on the planet, and teaching neighbor Erin, congratulated me on Facebook for my upcoming speaking engagement at what she coined as the “Super Bowl of English teachers.”

It made me chuckle when I wrote it, because I think she might have been implying I’m super, but as it pertains to those that I heard speak at the convention, it was spot on.


I have a notebook filled with quotes from the likes of Jason Reynolds, Pam Allyn, Donalyn Miller, Kylene Beers, Kwame Alexander, Ernest Morrell, Tom Romano, Cornelius Minor, Penny Kittle, Kelly Gallagher, Amy Rasmussen, Shana Karnes, Jackie Catcher, and many, many more.

I will have to write more on these quotes. Dig into them. Flood my classroom with them. But here is a taste:

On issues with equality in education Cornelius Minor said,”It’s not the students that are disabled, it’s the curriculum.”

Speaking to our current national focus on division and divisiveness, Kwame Alexander said, “We [educators] have to be the manufacturers and purveyors of hope.”

Pam Allyn added, “Be vigilant and aware and active in defense of words that heal, not words that wound.”

Ernest Morrell incited that we must have students consider how they “speak back to the book.”

And one of my favorites, was Kyleen Beers suggesting that if your inclination is to test students knowledge on the content of a book. she would “prefer you didn’t give them the damn book” (Beers).

Food for thought. Food for fuel. Ideas to motivate and captivate. I love my job…

Free books

Have you ever seen the videos of The Running of the Brides? Matrimonially incensed women trampling each other to secure the dress of their dreams in a wedding dress-laden warehouse turned streets of Pamplona? A place where otherwise calm, rational, respectable people turn into Black Friday bargain hunters with cutthroat tactics  and pitiless elbowing skills?

Now, swap out the brides for savings-fueled educators, who are not only passionate about saving money on books, but particularly prideful of stacking those free treasures into towers of savings that stand taller than the students they teach.


Add Curious George, countless authors signing their books (Matt De La Pena?  Neal Shusterman? Ann M. Martin?!), a hot dog stand, and free book totes, and you’ll see English teachers practically stab one another to get free texts.

It made me smile to see so many teachers literally fighting (friendly competition fighting, not literally throw a punch to grab a copy of  The Association of Small Bombs fighting) to support their classroom libraries and their commitment to putting books in the hands of teachers. ncte-3

So, Happy Thanksgiving everyone. I have enough notes, inspiration, and red hot passion for this profession right now to fuel another dozen or so posts on the incredible opportunity that was NCTE 2016. I’m so very thankful I could attend. So very thankful to my district for supporting this work. Thankful to my department members who are working their tails off to support our students as growing readers and writers. Thankful to my students for exploring their ncte-2deeper thoughts though books. Thankful that the Heros and Villains Fan Fest was starting, so we briefly shared the convention hall with roaming bands of beautifully costumed characters. Hey, we all have passion for different things. I find Thor’s passion to be particularly commanding.

I emailed Penny Kittle to thank her for talking with me and for sharing her insights on this powerful, albeit extremely challenging move to workshop, and I want to leave you with a quote that I think we can all give a little thanks for as we walk down this workshop path and learn how to do what’s best for our kids. The message is…workshop is simple.

We just need to, as Penny said, “be sure that students have time to read every day so [we] can confer, write every day to build volume, and study texts that help them learn the craft.”

Let’s eat.

If you attended NCTE, what are you thankful for? If you couldn’t join us, which of the quotes above speaks to your practice? We LOVE to hear from you. Please join the conversation in the comments below. 



Choice as the Keystone in Secondary English Classes

Shana and I were privileged to present a session during #TheEdCollabGathering on Saturday. If you joined us live, thank you! If you’d like to see our session, here it is. If you have questions we did not answer, leave them in the comments. We’ll do our best to answer.

Choice as the Keystone in Secondary English Classes

A big thank you to @iChrisLehman and the EdCollab Community.

Choice as the Keystone in Secondary English Classes

In a readers and writers workshop, everything comes back to choice.

Have you seen the movie You’ve Got Mail?  If so, you’ll recall the scene where Tom Hanks is giving Meg Ryan business advice.  “The Godfather is the answer to any question. ‘What should I pack for summer vacation?’ ‘Leave the gun, take the cannoli.’ ‘What day is it?’ ‘Maunday, Tuesday, Thursday, Wednesday.'”

It’s the same with choice.  “How will I know they’re reading if I haven’t read the book?”  They’ll be engaged, authentically, because they’ve chosen their books.  “How will I get them to want to revise their writing?”  They’ll want to strengthen the writing about topics and in genres they’ve chosen.  “How can I assess them if they’re all reading different books?”  You offer choice in ways for students to show their mastery–reflections, conferences, blogs, and more.

Choice is the keystone.img_1957

We have written about choice here and here and here.  It crops up again and again in our writing, thinking, and talking.

And we’re excited to talk more about choice with you all this Saturday, April 2, during The Educator Collaborative’s annual Gathering.  This amazing, free, inspiring day is the perfect way to spend a spring Saturday, as it will leave you energized, rejuvenated, and brimming with ideas.  It’s the modern PLC at its best, and the perfect way to help you finish the school year strong.

Tune in at 1:00 EST as we discuss choice as the keystone in English instruction.  We’ll share:

  • Research to support choice in literacy education
  • Strategies for teaching independent vs. small group vs. whole-class novels
  • Why conferring is at the heart of workshop
  • Writer’s workshop non-negotiables and the use of skills learned from independent reading

Please let us know in the comments, via Twitter (@amyrass or @litreader), or on our Facebook page what questions you have about choice as the keystone in secondary English classes.  We’ll be happy to answer them Saturday, and we can’t wait to see you there!

Resources to Make Your Move to Readers and Writers Workshop

When you believe in the power of the workshop classroom, research that supports it starts jumping at you like my dog when he sees me put on my running shoes. “Okay, Jag, give me a second. You can go with me.”

So when educators ask me for resources that support my Readers and Writers Workshop instruction, I am happy to share. Come, go with me — and bring all of your students!

Of course, a pretty good resource is Three Teachers Talk, right? The four of us who write here all practice this pedagogy in our unique classrooms in WV, NH, NY, and TX respectively. Erika wrote a great post of our Year in Review that reads like a highlight reel.

Of course, we have different teaching styles, but we all value specific things that never change in our practice:  choice, time, talking, reading, writing, conferring, modeling, sharing, publishing. I wrote about these 7 Moves in My Workshop Schedule recently.

Our presentation at NCTE last fall was all about starting and maintaining workshop in high school English classes. Jackie shared A Reader’s Workshop Starter Kit to Jumpstart the Process. Erika shared Landscape of Workshop: We Have Arrived. Shana shared Non-negotiables Across the Landscape of Workshop. And I shared The Landscape of Workshop in AP English.  (Our proposal for 2016 was not accepted, but we are mostly over the bitter and will keep advocating for RWW every chance we get.)

If you need research to back the why of readers and writers workshop in addition to what we might share in our posts, you might start with Donalyn Miller’s blog post: “I’ve Got Research. Yes, I Do. I’ve Got Research. How About You?” — Donalyn shares a list of articles and books that support why readers workshop is the best pedagogy for all students.

My colleagues and I believe the best book for secondary readers workshop is Book Love by Penny Kittle. Her argument for independent, choice reading resonated with me the moment I read it.

Donalyn Miller’s the Book Whisperer is another great resource for readers workshop. Although Donalyn taught middle school, many of the ideas she shares work with my AP English Language and Composition students.

For writers workshop, Write Beside Them, also by Penny, is my favorite. That is the book that changed me as an educator.

Another excellent resource for writers workshop is Learning Through Teaching by Don Murray. This is the most recent book Penny recommended to me to help with my own writing. Oh, boy, is it helping!

So, yes, please ask for resources. And if you are already a workshop believer, please share them. Every student I know will thank you.

Do you have resources you share that we might find valuable here at TTT? Please leave your thoughts in the comments.

Embedding Poetry in Core Literacy Instruction


Selfie at our session. –“The Sound of Sense: Putting Poetry at the Core of Literacy Instruction”

Saturday Heather and I presented a session on poetry at the Texas Council of Teachers of English Language Arts. When I wrote the proposal last year, I had been accepted but had not attended The Frost Place Conference on Poetry and Teaching, and I had hope that my life would be transformed through poetry after my stay in Franconia at the end of June. I knew I’d have ideas to share with other teachers at this conference. I was right.

That’s how faith works.

I shared the strategies that have shaped my teaching into fine points for skills acquisition since I learned them at the

Frost Place:

Dictation. When we dictate a poem, slowly, speaking each word and each line with care; when our students write each word, each phrase, each metaphor and simile, they take ownership of the language and see into the craft of the poet. In this ever-moving world, our students need to s-l-o-w-d-o-w-n and feel the beauty of the print on the page. Words become tangible and approachable. Comprehension improves. Analysis advances.

Arguing a Tone. My friend Margaret shared this strategy:  Choose a poem that begins with “how” or “why” or one that you know can be read in opposing tones. (Dickinson’s “How gentle is the little brook” works well.) Divide the class into two teams, and ask one side to read the poem with a tone of anger. Ask the other side to read the poem with a tone of happiness. Instruct students to find text evidence that supports their given tone then hold a debate. After discussing, students can then take their thinking to paper and write paragraphs that show analysis of the tone.

I Wonder for Revision. At the Frost Place, I loved being in the company of working poets. They inspired me with their thinking and their calm. I learned as I listened to their language. One afternoon we sat in a circle as a poet shared his work. We listened and offered feedback in the form of “I wonder…” He listened and took notes. And he left with a page of possibilities that he might have wanted to play with as he revised his poem. I’ve used this strategy with my students and had great success. I wrote about it here: A Feedback Protocol for Revision Workshop.

At the end of our session on Saturday, I read my poem I wrote modeled after Meg Kearney’s poem “Creed.” Just like at the Frost Place, I cried when I read about my mother. Poetry is emotion. And it’s an emotion that we need to help our students see and feel and play with. Sure, we can reserve a unit in our curricular year to devote to poetry, but our students will love it, understand it, and appreciate the wonders of language when we embed poetry in every unit throughout the year.

It is possible, I know, because I do it.

What are some of your ideas for embedding poetry in your core instruction? or, what are some of your favorite poems to share with students?

Exhausted but Renewed #NCTE14

NCTE pres

After our presentation at #NCTE14, I stood in the hotel lobby talking with Penny. We’d wandered from the hallways outside our session room, meeting several teachers along the way who had attended our presentation. They complimented me on my work and told me to praise Jackie, Erika, and Shana for theirs. They told Penny how much her work meant to them, and how her ideas and presentations had shaped their teaching. This happened a lot. I felt a little like Robin to her Batman. For a heady moment.

While standing in that lobby, one particular educator grabbed my heart. She reached out to Penny, thanking her so genuinely. Tears pooled in her eyes as she said, “I almost left the profession, and then I read your books. I’ve changed, and I love teaching again.”

I couldn’t help thinking of my own situation last year. I almost left the profession, too. (I wrote about it here: Grateful November)

I almost wrote a Grateful November part 2. Something along the lines of how the NCTE conference infuses a renewal in the soul, like running through sprinklers in Texas in August. Laughing with colleagues, old and new; learning from teacher-heroes we’ve read about and learned from through books and professional development from afar; stock-piling ideas scribbled in notebooks that we cannot wait to share with students because more than anything we come here to learn how to help them learn.

Penny tweeted about her experiences at this conference:

Screen Shot 2014-11-23 at 5.49.45 AM

Profound shifts in thinking.

So true. And so powerful I’m taking it with me.

The memory of presenting “The Landscape of Workshop Across America” with the brilliant educators Jackie Catcher, Erika Bogdany, and Shana Karnes will keep my mind singing. They challenge my thinking regularly and help me find clarity when the chaos in my head gets too loud to hear the silence.

The memory of speaking to Katie Wood Ray in the hallway just prior to our session will keep me spinning as I continue to write.  As Shana says, “a living mentor text.” Such grace and insight. I’m acting on her counsel. [Want to join me in @lindaurbanbooks #writedaily30 challenge?]

The memory of hundreds of beautiful book covers screaming at me until I picked them up in the exhibit hall will keep me sinking into YA novels, devouring stories, so I can share them with my readers who need to devour them, too. Toomanybooksnotenoughtime.

I am exhausted but renewed.

And today I go to ALAN. If you’ve never stayed for that conference, if you love teens, books, authors, and reading, you might want to put it on your bucket list.

Blessings to you all this Thanksgiving week.

God is Good.

NCTE pres w Penny


#NCTE14 J.44 Nonnegotiables Across the Landscape of Workshop

Jackie, Erika, Amy and I are excited to present at NCTE in Washington, D.C. on Saturday at 2:45 pm. Penny Kittle is our Chair. We are session J.44. Join us!

“I am the sum of my mentors,” writes Meenoo Rami in Thrive.  As a student at Miami University in 2005, I had no idea how fortunate I was to have Tom Romano as one of my mentors.  As a leader in educational writing, a teacher with his thumb on the pulse of research, and the giant who first introduced me to NCTE, Romano has always been my single biggest mentor.

As I thought for months about what I wanted to share with teachers regarding the readers-writers workshop at NCTE, I was reminded of an assignment I’d done in Romano’s class–to find the “red thread” of my teaching…my nonnegotiables regarding our profession.  I dug for it in the depths of my hard drive.

Re-reading it, I laughed as I always do at my older writing, but then I smiled.  Many of my nonnegotiables remain unchanged: sustained silent reading.  Craft informed by research.  Authenticity.  Engagement is central.  Model, model, model.

Tom Romano obviously did a damn good job as a mentor.

IMG_5031Those simple principles–plus my genuine passion for reading, and writing, and the joy I believe they can bring everyone–inform my practice day in and day out.  They are supported by the research of Penny Kittle, Katie Wood Ray, Tom Newkirk, Kelly Gallagher, Donalyn Miller, Linda Rief, and more.  I am the sum of those mentors, and in this season of giving thanks, I’m so grateful that I am.  My students have found incredible success because I stand on the shoulders of those giants, and I can’t wait to share their stories at our session in Washington, D.C.

%d bloggers like this: