Category Archives: Heather Cato

It’s Monday. What are You Reading? – Invoking My Reading Rights

Mon Reading Button PB to YA

So if you have been actually following what I am reading, you will know that a few weeks ago I wrote a bit of a rant about how I hate books in a series. And yet, now you will soon find out that I am going to contradict myself because two books I mention are in fact part of a series.  What does the Reader’s Bill of Rights say? The right to read what you want…. Well, I’m invoking my rights!

Books I read:

Perfect Scoundrelsperfect scoundrels
I’m sure like most people, my calendar is full. I have meetings and appointments from now until the end of time, and I use my calendar on my phone to make sure I don’t forget these important dates. Unlike most people I am sure, you will also find on my phone some VERY IMPORTANT dates — book release dates. I have had Perfect Scoundrels on my calendar for a while now and thankfully it didn’t disappoint.

Katarina, who usually spends her time pulling off different heists around the world, must now put her skills to the test as she tries to uncover a mystery that might possibly put her boyfriend, Hale, in real danger.

What makes Carter’s books in a series (this one Heist Society but also the Gallagher Girls) so successful is that although she continues to develop the story of her characters, each book has a unique story line. For me, this means that more than half of the book isn’t wasted on recap of the previous book.

Books I’m reading this week:

cinderA few weeks ago I had the opportunity to go to dinner with the author, Marissa Meyer. Horribly embarrassed that I hadn’t already read her book (although I think I pulled it off ok) I am making it up to her.  — I am not, however promising that I will continue in the series even though I know I will probably get sucked in!

into the wild

While it wasn’t even on my To Be Read List, I’ve moved it to the top of my reading list for the week because I’m working with a teacher who is about to embark on a unit of study with her students. So far it has been great (three chapters in), but I did just find out that there was a movie about it a couple of years ago…  🙂


It’s Monday. What are You Reading? – Closet Confessions

Mon Reading Button PB to YA

Books I read:

one and onlyThe One and Only Ivan
Shhh! Please don’t tell all of my Ivan fanatic fans that I hadn’t read the book until just this week. To be fair, it has been in my TBR (to be read) pile practically since it first came out, but as the stack continues to grow and topple over sometimes even a classic gets lost among the wreckage.

When I finally did rescue the book from the seemingly forgotten and certainly neglected TBR pile, I felt a twinge of regret that I hadn’t gotten to it sooner.

Turn by turn words glide off the page as they string together a heart-warming story that vibrantly comes to life in the reader’s heart. As I read, I found sentence after sentence I would like to analyze with students, as well as have them imitate, so they in turn might feel the power of language through a carefully constructed thought.

Shared experiences with stories are what bind us together. If I still had my class of sixth graders, The One and Only Ivan is one that I would be sharing with my class.

simple as it seemsAs Simple as it Seems
There are some books that you don’t really know much about, but as soon as you see the name of the author who wrote it you are compelled to read it simply because you love the author. Sarah Weeks, who also wrote So B. It and Pie crafts fairly simple stories that captivate readers though complex characters that are dealing with complex problems. In As Simple as it Seems, Verbena has enough problems to deal with as she is trying to navigate through the tween years, but when she finds out that she has been adopted she doesn’t quite know how to take it. Although she is easily irritable and often moody, Verbena’s story will remind readers that discovering who we are is something we all must do.

Books I’m reading this week:

out of the easyjust one day

NSTWP Saturday Session

How might the use of technology be redefined and better utilized in the classroom?

It’s Monday What Are You Reading? 1-21

Mon Reading Button PB to YA


ReachedI really hate books in series! Sure, kids love the familiar characters and stories lines, and I guess they are helpful for kids who don’t know what to read. If they find a series they can just hop from book to book through the series making safe moves from book to book. But seriously, come on, they none the less are so annoying! Reached, the third book in the series was released November of 2012, while the first book, Matched was released November of 2010, so for the last two years I have been agonizing over these characters – worried about their safety, their families, their society. I think what is most annoying about a series is that most of the time they suck you in unsuspectingly. When I sat down to start reading Matched I was instantly drawn to the characters and the fascinating story of a society in the future where everything is seemingly perfect. As I read, I committed to Cassia, Ky, and Xander and their quest for truth when – BAM! – as if from out of no where, the final page of the book turned with still so many questions left hanging in the balance! I vividly remember thinking, “WHAT! This book is going to be part of a series?!?!” So one can imagine my delight when the third and final book was released in November. I could hardly wait to dive right back into where the story left off with Crossed, the second book. I think for me it isn’t so much the hatred of books in a series, but more an impatience with having to wait for closure. Thankfully, Ally Condie does a wonderful job of tying up all the loose ends as she confronts head on some very tough questions about a society that strives for perfection. Not sure how I thought this series would come to a close, I was beyond amazed with the twists and revelations. A must read, the most poignant theme for me from this series is that no mater who you are or where you are from, a basic necessity for all human-kind is to understood.


photo-4What  is more exciting than getting a package in the mail? Getting a box of books in the mail that’s what! Friday, I was surprised to see a package on the door step. When I opened it I was so excited to see several new books that I was strongly tempted to cancel my weekend plans just so I could stay home and read. This week my reading plan is pretty much set out for me as I intend to start working through this box of goodness! Of course, I will start with Pi in the Sky authored by one of my all time favorites, Wendy Mass and then move on to the others. Unfortunately, the rest of my to be read pile will just have to wait.

Thank to Jen and Kellee for hosting this meme!  To see what others are reading, or even to participate, be sure to check out their blog Teach Mentor Texts 

New Year’s Resolutions

New Year 2

I’ve never really been much for writing New Year’s Resolutions (or keeping them for that matter), but I decided I would start this year off a little differently by trying my hand at writing a few. Obviously, I’m not off to a great start because it is more than a week into the new year and I’m just now sitting down to write them. Also, having never really done this before I decided to stick with some of the more traditional resolutions. Never the less, I think I’m actually quite satisfied with what I cam up with. I do caution you that you will want to read my resolutions carefully because I have put my own little slant on them. Hopefully, in reading my resolutions you will decide to adopt one or two of them for yourself!

1) Eat healthy and exercise regularly
   I encourage others to take in a healthy regimen of reading daily, but I often fail to find the time for me to read. I resolve to make reading a priority and commit time daily for my own reading pleasure.

2) Spend more time with family and friends
It seems like every time I book talk a book with students there are at least three or four a class period that want to take the book right then and start reading it. I resolve to spend more time with others talking about books in hope that it will continue to inspire others to read.

3) Lose weight
I have so many books. In fact, I am sure I have several thousand pounds of books! I resolve to drop my excess book weight by sharing my books with others.

4) Improve my education
I love learning and I love improving my craft. I resolve to continue my learning by reading several professional books this year.

5) Be more positive
I am positive that reading is the single most important factor it ensuring the educational success of all our students. I resolve to get books in the hands of our students and continue to encourage them to read.

6) Volunteer to help others
For any inexperienced readers a library or a bookstore with too many choices can be quite overwhelming. I resolve to help make these places more accessible for students by book talking and suggesting books for them to read. I further resolve to help them to develop a confidence in their reading tastes so that they will be confident when selecting their own books.

7) Save money
A teacher trying to continue to keep his/her classroom library up to date can be quite expensive, but I resolve to take advantaged of my Half Priced Book Sales, Scholastic book club points, Scholastic Books Warehouse sales, and even asking donations from my students.

8) Get organized
My bookshelves are a nightmare. I can hardly find a book I am looking for much less expect anyone to do the same. Whether it be by genre or some other means, II resolve to organize my endless shelves of books.

9) Travel more
There are so many places in the world that I am dying to visit. For every book I have yet to read there is a journey I have yet to take. I resolve to take a trip every time I open a book and go places I never thought I would.

10) Finish my “to-do” lists
My stack of books to read is falling over it is so tall. In fact, it seems like every time that I take one book off the stack I am adding two or three more. While I know that this stack is one that will never completely be finished, I do resolve to make every attempt to make a noticeable dent in the stack.

The Reluctant Reader

I know it’s not a contest or anything, but I bet that when I began teaching language arts I had read fewer books of any kind than any other language arts teacher in the history of public education.  I never liked reading as a kid, but I can vividly remember the first time I took my students down to our antique, two-sizes-too small library to check out books.  With the signatures on my diploma still wet, I was excited to begin working with my students on all of the great teaching strategies that I had learned in college to improve their reading skills.

Once we got to the library the students mechanically slipped into a chair at one of the tables in the room to await further instructions.  Eagerly I explained that they could pick any book they wanted to read; they didn’t have to read something just because I told them they had to.  I guess I was thinking I would get a standing ovation from the students because I had just liberated them from the reading tyrants that had enslaved their whole educational career, making them read boring and uninteresting books.  I was surprised when I received a series of moans and rolling of the eyes as students unenthusiastically got up to select a book.

As the students aimlessly roamed around the library I began to realize that they didn’t know what book they should pick.  What’s worse is I realized I did not know what to encourage them to read.  I, a non-reader myself, was a fraud. How could I recommend books when I hadn’t read any? Well, I’d read maybe 8 in junior high that I could tell them were great, or at least not half bad, but that was almost ten years ago.  Would these students actually find those books interesting? Read More 

Standardized Testing: 5 Tips to Higher Scores


With the implementation of a new statewide standardized test, teachers are anxious to figure out what they can do to get kids where they need to be. While I continue to read up on information about the test, I am more convicted than ever that the following statements must happen in order for us to see continued improvement in our students’ scores.


1. Reading and writing MUST be integrated seamlessly into all content areas. It simply isn’t enough for students to be intentionally reading and writing in their language arts classroom.

2. You must now consider that all of your students are in your AP or advanced class. Everyone has to experience the rigor. It is not okay to just “get kids to pass.” That idea simply won’t cut it any more.

3. In order for students to do well, they must READ like a WRITERS and WRITE like READERS. You can’t have one without the other, and teachers need to be explicitly interlocking the two together as they teach.

4. It is not about the test. We can want to see more released questions/examples and have more data from the state, or whatever, but that really isn’t going to get our kids to score any better. The only thing that will improve our scores is improved instruction that utilizes sound teaching strategies.

5. All kids have to read and write more! Practice makes perfect, or so they say…. Regardless, our kids that struggle with reading and writing simply haven’t logged enough flight hours. —Ok, that’s a generalization, I get there could be other reasons for kids struggling, but generally speaking, students who struggle need more authentic practice.

The Road Less Traveled

This week I saw the most peculiar thing:  a teacher frustrated with a student for not coming prepared to class with a book in hand, sends the boy down to the library to check out a book. Okay, that part isn’t peculiar. The peculiar part is the fact that when the boy returned, he had the book Mockingjay— a book that I know for a fact the boy read last year.

Now, I’m not speaking ill about the joys of retreading. Avid readers often do that when we find a book we love. But this boy, he had no interest in rereading. I watched him spend the remainder of the reading time flipping through the book not really reading. It was apparent that this student was just passing the time, and I wondered why he chose to check out a book he knew he wasn’t going to read.

A couple of theories continue to swirl around in my head.

Clearly, the boy isn’t in any kind of reading zone, proximal or otherwise.

Clearly, the boy had some connection with Mockingjay and doesn’t know where to go now.

The experience watching this student reminds me of learning to drive. Remember the first time you had to make a decision at a fork in the road? One direction looks easy and smooth–well-traveled. The other sparks a tingling in the gut:  adventure this way, but it’s pocked with ruts and looks dangerous and unknown.

Inexperienced readers are the same way. For some, the library, a labyrinth of books in a myriad of colors, shapes, and sizes, might be one of the scariest places in the world. Some students haven’t a clue how to navigate the shelves. They look at book covers, but don’t see the signs that indicate a good read. For the inexperienced reader, the child who’s not yet learned how to steer through the titles, the familiar is the turn he takes:  “Oh, I know this one. It is safe.”

One solution to this kind of book stall? Teach kids to find books that are part of a series. Once a child reads Book One, the rest of the journey is easy because when he gets to the end of the first destination he simply picks up the next book in the series and continues the journey.

Books like The Strange Case of Origami Yoda and Heist Society and Maze Runner all capture the interest of young readers, and books two and three in the series are just as engaging as book one.

What happens at the end of the series? Some students may beg, “What else has this author written?” or “Are there more books like these?” I’ve seen it time and time again. Once a student feels confident in his choice of books, finishes a series, and experiences success as a reader, he is more apt to challenge himself the next time he wanders the rows in a library.

Of course, some students need more help than others deciding on what journey they will take next. That’s where the teacher can provide additional support. Teri Lesene explains it this way:  “Reading ladders provide that wonderful scaffolding that emerging lifetime readers need by helping them find other books that offer satisfying reading experiences,” (Lesene, 2010).

Teachers have an incredible opportunity to assist readers in making the next step by helping them find the next book that will enable them to continue to grow as readers. Step by step and book by book.

My friend, mister fake-my-way-through Mockingjay? He and I need to chat. I’ll say something like: “I’ll trade you this book for that one,” and hand him Maze Runner, and I bet the next time I see him, he’ll grin and tell me he’s read the rest of the series.

Think about it: In what ways do you as a teacher help navigate students to take risks as readers?




Angleberger, T., & Rosenstock, J. L. (2010). The strange case of Origami Yoda. New York:

Amulet Books.

Carter, A. (2010). Heist society. New York: Disney/Hyperion.

Collins, S. (2010). Mocking Jay (HC. ed.). Toronto ON: Scholastic Press.

Dashner, J. (2009). The Maze Runner. New York: Delacorte Press.

Lesesne, T. S. (2010). Reading ladders: leading students from where they are to where we’d like them to be. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

“Blog, blog, blog…that is all I ever hear.”

'student_ipad_school - 025' photo (c) 2012, Brad Flickinger - license:

An Open Letter to Parents:

I have heard you have some questions about our student blogs and writing in my class. I hope this letter answers them.

Did you know that our classroom blog is each student’s portfolio of work, which includes all types of writing? It is a combination of digital journal and portfolio. So far this year, students have been given opportunities to write in many modes: expository, narrative, literary response, and personal reflection. In addition to the assigned writing tasks, I encourage students to write about topics that interest them. The growth I have seen in my student writers has been easy to measure, since so many of them have taken ownership of their blogs and write to their personal world-wide audiences.

This summer I attended a conference where Alan November, an international leader in educational technology, described the urgency teachers must take in changing practices that limit learning to one-year increments. Teachers must expand learning practices so students retain and build upon the knowledge they gain each year. This idea of expanding learning practices resonated within me because I have often found it frustrating that a student’s body of work is essentially not available to him for reflection, or continued study, after a given school year.

For my students, their blogs are a collection of their work. For some, this blog will become a place where they can explore and express complex ideas about our society, even after they leave my classroom. Research shows that bloggers are more prolific writers than their teenage counterparts who do not blog. Additionally, blogging allows for an authentic voice in student writing.

When a student writes for the teacher, as grader and sole audience, the writing is often contrived and trite. However, when we give students the opportunity to find an audience outside the walls of the classroom, they find their voices and their writing dramatically improves. In addition, the feedback students receive on their writing is not just from me, the teacher. The feedback may come from anyone who reads their posts, which makes the opportunity for connections to the real-world exciting for student writers. Just last month, a student elatedly read a comment on her blog from a pastor who said that her post gave him a refreshing view of heroism–a thought he would love to share with his congregation.

I received another bit of positive feedback recently. An author contacted me saying he was interested in publishing for his readers a visual literacy piece one of my students created about that author’s book. My student had posted this original piece on his blog. Again, feedback from our beyond-the-classroom audience.

In my classroom we do not “do blogging;” blogging is the medium students use to publish their work.

Many people, some personal friends of mine, have received book publication contracts simply from the body of work they have posted to their blogs. Why would I not encourage blogs as a place for students to publish their authentic work?

Still not convinced? Consider this: Blogging can be a great equalizer in a Digital Classroom.

The author is not struggling to physically form letters, and the reader is not struggling to read cramped handwriting. When students type, they are no longer judged by their penmanship. In addition, technology supports the author’s spelling. Without these limitations, students are judged by the depth of their ideas and the connections they make to their world and our society. Isn’t that the kind of thinking and learning we want?

Parents, please, I encourage you to frequently read your student’s blog. Share the link to your son or daughter’s blog with grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, and all the important people in your child’s life. Imagine the kind of writing we can develop in our student writers if we show them we care about what they have to say. And, believe me, my students have a lot of good things to say.

Help me expand the Learning Community and comment on your child’s blog posts. The opportunities for growth are endless!


Mrs. Cato

iOS5 Update

How to Update a Class Set of iPads and Keep Your Sanity!

I have been fortunate enough to receive a class set of iPads this year. They have been GREAT! However, when iOS5 came out I had to make a plan on how I would systematically update all 30 of them.  Below you will find a list of steps that I took to update all of my iPads. It actually went quite well and I really did not encounter any difficulties while completing this process.

Just so you know – all 30 of my iPads are running with the same iTunes account. I have one centralized MacBook that I use to keep all of my devices up to date. Although I do have a multiple port USB hub, I only plugged in one iPad for the update into the computer at a time. Finally some of you may find that you do want to jump into all of the features iCloud and other services have to offer. Again, this is just what I did.

Updating iPads to iOS 5

  1. Update the iTunes on your sync station to the most current version.
  2. Update all mobile apps.
  3. Download any additional apps you want to have on the iPads.
  4. Connect the first iPad to the computer.  You can only update one at a time.
  5. You will be prompted to do a software version 5.0 update – click Update
  6. You’ll get a dialog box suggesting that you transfer purchases that were purchased on the device and not from the computer.  This is your choice.  If all apps are on the computer you can skip this step.
  7. The next dialog box warns about deleting several other things as it upgrades.  You may want to make sure that you have backed up any photos, videos, or Pages files you want to keep before upgrading.
  8. If you have a lot of apps, the updating process can take up to 30 minutes.

IMPORTANT:  Make sure the computer has finished the updates before you disconnect the iPad! Once it starts syncing apps, the device no longer has the Syncing message on the iPad but it is still working so don’t disconnect until it is finished.

Once updated, there are several settings you have to set before you’ll be able to use the iPad at all:

  1. First screen, tap Continue
  2. Enable Location Services – tap Next
  3. Choose a Network – It is important that you select a network properly. If you choose the wrong network or if it’s slow to connect, you’ll get a Continue Without WiFi error message. Keep trying until it connects to the network and goes to the next screen.
  4. Apple ID – sign in with the iTunes account for that iPad
  5. Terms and Conditions – Agree
  6. The next screen asks about using iCloud.  Tap Do Not Use iCloud.  There are many implications to using iCloud in a shared, multi-iPad situation.  My district will be using some iCloud features in other settings but we do not want the iPads backing up to iCloud at this time.
  7. Diagnostics – Do Not Send.  Tap Next
  8. Tap Start Using iPad

General Settings Changes (Ways to save your battery and your sanity!)


  • Turn off all notifications.  There are a few that are on by default.  You’ll have to turn them off one at a time. There may actually be a few you want on. You will have to consider this carefully.


  • Turn on Location Services for Find My iPad and iMovie (if installed.)
  • Tap System Services – Turn off all of them.  This will help with battery drain.

–       iCLOUD

  • Turn off everything except Bookmarks and Find My iPad.  For my district, as we learn more about iCloud and how it affects the other iPads on the same account, we may turn some of these back on.

–       iMESSAGE

  • Turn OFF!  Because the iPads are all on the same Apple ID account any number that is typed on one iPad to send a message will then appear on all the iPads. It is a cool feature so kids want to try it out. The problem is they have now typed in their mom’s phone number and other students will then see mom’s number on their iPad and will “test out the cool new toy” by sending a message to a number they don’t even know.

–       FACETIME

  • Turn OFF  – Same issue as iMessage.  Tap on the Apple ID then tap Sign Out.  This will force the iPad to have the password if a student turns it back on.

–       SAFARI

  • Just for housekeeping you may want to clear history and cookies/data
  • Turn on Bookmarks Bar. Since iCloud syncing of bookmarks is turned on you can now set up frequently used bookmarks on any one of the iPads (or the syncing station Safari) and all iPads will sync and get them.

–       PHOTOS

  • Leave all settings as is.  Do not turn on Photo Stream. This enables any and all pictures the students take to appear on all of the devices. Not only would this quickly fill up space on the iPads, it would eat up bandwidth as the files are transferred to each iPad and to the cloud.  At this time, any photos in the Photo Stream cannot be deleted. They simply purge after 30 days.

–       STORE

  • Turn on Automatic Downloads for Apps.

–       Check Other Apps

  • You’ll want to check the other apps you have downloaded and verify that their settings are what you want. For example, it appears that the BBC News app updates the app’s ticker every five minutes. You would want to change that setting to “only on startup.”

Future Updates

Once the iPads are upgraded to iOS 5 they will not have to be connected to the sync station to receive system updates.  They are now done through Settings then tap General then tap System Update.  We had hoped that all iTunes syncing could be done through wifi but the limit of 5 devices per iTunes account still applies.  When tested in our offices we were only able to wirelessly sync 5 devices.  Even if we ejected those 5 from the iTunes list, the next 5 still wouldn’t connect.  The account knows we had already met our limit.  However, if you turned on automatic downloads for apps the iPads should still stay synced.  Occasionally you’ll want to connect one, transfer all the purchased apps, update the apps then sync up all the iPads just to get them all up to date but this doesn’t have to be done often.

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