Summer Rewind and Fast Forward to Next Year

Exhausted from the year and overwhelmed with end of year tying up of loose ends, my brain is naturally (neurotically) buzzing with possibilities for next school year…

  • Have my students jump into their reading lives with reflection. This past year we did visual biographies inspired by illustrations of James Gulliver Hancock. Next year, I want students to practice expressing their ideas in a variety of ways. Infographics seem like a great place to start. This edutopia article gives a variety of suggestions for sites to help create such infographics and a few mentors to take a look at with students
  • Take a page (or leave) from the brilliance of Charles Moore and create a giant tree in my room. With different colored leaves for each class period, we’ll celebrate our reading over the course of the year by recording the books each class has tackled. Adding some student photos with their favorite books will be the best “fruit” our tree could produce.
  • Return to my index card filing system for my classroom library. I should know better. I like to see the stack of cards to know where our classroom library books are. It brings me peace to see the enormous stack of checked out books throughout the year, and then watch the stack dwindle toward the end of the year. English teacher therapy.
  • Go back through this blog and somehow catalog all the great ideas I want to try…

See true beauty

To assist with your own planning for next year, do we have a deal for you!

Throughout the summer, we look forward to sharing with you some of this school year’s greatest hits here at Three Teachers Talk. With a bounty of new contributors, whose enthusasim for developing the reading and writing lives of their students has been a blessing to our worshop voice, and our own continued journies as readers, writers, and workshop advocates, Amy, Shana, and I are thrilled to share some of these brilliant posts with you once again.

Additionally, the summer will be filled with new posts and ideas to get you ready for the year ahead. We can’t wait!

Between classes yesterday, my neighbor Brandon and I chatted about all the changes we want to make for next year. Conferring with a slightly different system. Tweaking policies to allow for more authentic accountability and tweaking practice to allow for more self-reflection across the school year. Securing subsricptions to flipgrid to get quick snapshots of student thinking and allow them to view and comment on those insights.

We agreed with bright smiles, as every growing teacher does at the end of a successful school year, that next year will be even better. Cheers to this year and to next. Enjoy every moment of your well deserved summer vacation, Three Teachers Nation.

We love this journey and roadtripping it through this wonderful world of workshop with you makes it even sweeter.

IMG_2256Lisa Dennis teaches English and leads a department of incredible English educators at Franklin High School near Milwaukee. She can’t wait to start her summer reading and looks most forward to sharing the summer with her recent 4K graduate, Ellison. She’s my reason. 

Follow Lisa on Twitter @LDennibaum. 

The End is the Beginning

EDIT: Five minutes after scheduling this post last night I got the email from the Book Love Foundation informing me that I won a Book Love Grant. So….didn’t sleep much last night. Too full up with excitement to write this into the post in a more elegant way. My apologies.

Hello Friends,

Today is the 4th of June and this year, my sixteenth yearly journey through teaching, came to its inevitable conclusion. This “end” though is not only about the end of the school year, but the end of a major part of my life. It was a difficult year, full of hard realizations and tough decisions, floods of water and floods of bullets. Yet…I look forward to a new opportunity in August.

If you traced the path from my house to my school you’d see the tracks my tires have worn in the pavement.  For the past 11 years I’ve driven to the same address every morning and traced that route home every night.  For more than a quarter of my life Clear Springs High School felt like home.  Change, I’ve learned, is/was necessary.  Thankfully, I’ve been given the opportunity to transfer to another high school in our district and  i I eagerly anticipate building a new beginning with a new team.

This is a season of change for me as I’m not just leaving the safety of the only high school in which I’ve ever taught-  I’m leaving coaching.  I can’t begin to list all the reasons why I’ve made that decision, but I will share that time with my family is no longer a commodity upon which I’m willing to negotiate.  Its not a matter of letting go of “the dream” of coaching.  I lived the dream, invested time helping so many boys grow into men, and felt the heat under the lights on Friday nights.  Coaching was like poetry.  Poetry can be happy or sad…devastating or celebratory.

While so much will change, a lot will not. I won’t forget where I came from.  The thousands of hours I spent sweating on the grass still inform my instruction just like the classroom helped me be better on the grass.  I’ll still watch football like a coach; I’ll just do it from the stands holding hands with my daughter or with my arm around my wife.

I’m still insatiably hungry; more eager to learn and grow than ever before.  I’ll continue to seek out opportunities to meet people more knowledgeable than I am and who know a better way of doing things that I do. There are so many of those people out there. From national conferences, to team planning periods, its all new to me and couldn’t be more excited.

I will continue seeking the most effective means of maximizing the power of my instructional practices.  I will continue devouring professional texts and building collaborative relationships with the teachers around me.  I’ll keep applying to present at every possible venue from the campus level to the national level.  I will spread the gospel of literacy and hope to help make a small change in this big world.

I will find ways to empower those around me to love what they do as much as I do. I’ll also seek those that already love it as much as I do and can empower me to share in their energy.

I will read and write because it makes me a better teacher of reading and writing.

What stands out when I look back?

  1. Our “Rooted in Reading” tree is one of the most successful moves I’ve ever made in the classroom.  My students BEAMED when we talked about how many books they recorded on the leaves of that tree. Even when it was transplanted at semester, it continued to grow.
  2. I poured my heart into the kids more than ever before.  The other evening when I asked a colleague when he was going to write his book, he replied: “I don’t know, but its going to be about how it is to build strong relationships with kids.”  I couldn’t agree more.  I would guess that I had a 97% success rate of telling each class that I loved them as the bell rang to release them to their next class.  Next year = 100%.
  3. We all moved as readers and writers.  Some more than others.  Some of us (me) had further to move than others.
  4. Sponsoring Student Council was a massively formative experience for me.  I could write a book about our year and how much we accomplished.  Working with kids that signed up for the class, rather than other reasons, was incredible. These kids changed the world for the better.  They changed me too.

What stands out when I look forward?

  1. The CCISD Literacy Institute!!! I can’t wait to get started (this morning) on this very important work.  Cohort 2 gets to stand on the shoulders of giants.
  2. Life Changes: Not just the song by Thomas Rhett (which is great, btw) but I’ve made some big decisions about what is important to me and who are the people that I want to learn from and grow with.
  3. Making changes in this profession that give young people the tools to stave off the yoke of tyranny. (too idealistic?)
  4. Teaching Pre-AP classes.  I’ve never taught anything but on-level classes so I’m thrilled for this opportunity.

The best stories are the stories of discovery.  Its time to write Act II of my story.

Charles Moore is excited to join the faculty of Clear Creek High School.  He recently discovered the joy of writing curriculum.  He loves going to the movies with his wife, driving his classic Corvette and hates building gates (Its the worst). He just finished reading Ten Things We Did (and probably shouldn’t have).

Thank you…

Reading the posts over the last week or so have completely filled my work cup. Shana is gifting, Amy is reminiscing, Katie is contemplating summer reads… I hadn’t realized how heavily I have come to rely on this blog. The advice, the ideas, the questions have given me a community that is excited about innovating the English Language Arts classroom. It is a place I can come and get lost in what others are doing to change how we ELAR.

Thank you! Thank you to everyone who has posted and to everyone who is reading the posts. Thank you for wanting more for our students.

I am 21 days (max) from giving birth to our first child, and I’ve found my thoughts wandering to what school will be like for him. Granted, I’m at least five years away from my first-born stepping into a classroom, but it doesn’t stop my hope for what those classrooms will look like. My husband and I are both in education and there is a lot of edu-speak in our house. We talk about where our son will go to school; my district, his district, our zoned district. We talk about involvement in his school community. We talk about who our favorite teachers have been and why. It makes me hope that our son is fortunate enough to get ELAR teachers like you. ELAR teachers who want to inspire reading and writing. Teachers who want to teach students to think and ask questions and know how to navigate the world after they leave us. And, maybe it’s the hormones that have me all sentimental, or that it’s the end of another school year, but the overwhelming feeling I just can’t kick is gratitude. I am BEYOND fortunate to work with teachers and administrators that have a common goal when it comes to teaching English, and for that my hope burns bright. My son will fall in love with reading and writing because of YOU.

I hope summer gives you what you need, so when August comes around you are ready to get back to the trenches. Our students need teachers like you.


3 Ways to “Wrap Up” Your School Year

I am an unabashed gift giver.

I love tangible ways to express my appreciation for friends, students, family, colleagues, and anyone else I count as important.

…I also love shopping.

But with an impending move to Wisconsin on the horizon, I don’t love clutter in my home–so I am gifting left and right. That was part of the inspiration this year for how I wanted to finish the semester with my students–students I’ve been with for multiple years, in some cases, and others who I’ve only gotten to know and learn with for one semester.

Like any ending, this one tended to color the ups and downs of our school year into a tone more rosy than reality may have painted. With two kids under two, a hectic semester of required assignments, and the ever-present student mood swings offered by snow days, spring break, and finals week, we all struggled at times to stay committed to our work. No school year is ever smooth, or perfect, or simple–but I still like to celebrate its end annually with something tangible. As such, I give each of my students a gift at the end of every year, and have every year since I began teaching.

Here are three ways I “wrapped up” the ending of this school year–literally.

The Gift of Reading

Two groups of my students and I have been together for two years now, and in those two years, I’ve gotten to know these kids (I mean, they’re adults, but I will always refer to my students as “kids” when I think of them) incredibly well. They will be teaching in all content areas, in all grade levels, but still–I can’t seem to turn off my English teacher brain long enough not to say, hmmm, I know exactly what book that forward-thinking history teacher would like.

So this year, I pulled from my own bookshelves one or two books for each of my students–for their personal reading, for their classrooms, or both. In each book, I wrote the student a note, then wrapped each book individually. This time-intensive gesture has been rewarding in spades as my students contact me to tell me they’ve read and loved their books.

The Gift of Writing

We use Google Docs quite frequently, and one of my favorite activities to have students work on is to respond to a writing prompt on a collaborative Google Doc and proceed to write, think, and argue together on one page.

So this year, I printed out every collaborative Google Doc, group-written book review, team-created list of strategies, or class-crafted series of ideal classrooms, social justice non-negotiables, and pedagogically challenging teaching moves that we’d created and bound them together into a class “Anthology of Awesome,” which each student received.

On our last day of class, we shared the anthologies with donuts and coffee. I also brought thank-you notes for students to write to one another–personal messages they hand-wrote and hand-delivered to their critical friends, who had helped read and respond to their work all semester long.

With these pieces of writing in their pockets, my students left class with tangible reminders of the intellectual portion of our time together.

The Gift of Family

For better or for worse, with the end of each school year together, a class is like a family. Some members are dysfunctional, some are estranged, but in general, we’re a bunch of former strangers who now love, appreciate, and respect one another more than we did four quarters ago.

To help us remember this time together, I wrote my classes each a letter that highlighted each student by name, and comprised some of our memories together, our shared goals, and our funny moments. I added this letter to the beginning of our class anthology to serve as a reminder of our Screen Shot 2018-05-30 at 7.11.46 AM.pngstudents’ names and personalities. For my future teachers, I created our ideal school, in which we’d all teach and get to work together forever. In past years, I simply wrote a letter of well-wishes to my kids, and included each student’s name and a little compliment toward them all.

As we wrap up this school year, these simple gifts are things you might consider crafting to help end your year with students on a high note. It’s easy to get caught up in the end-of-semester hubbub of grades, exams, and packing up classrooms, but I hope you’ll pause to commemorate a year of learning as a group in some way with your students, as well.

Please share how you “wrap up” the school year meaningfully with your students! We’d love to know in the comments, on Facebook, or on Twitter!

Shana Karnes will soon be leaving the wild and wonderful mountains of West Virginia for the great lakes of Wisconsin. She is excited to continue her involvement in Appalachian education by leading institutes with the National Writing Project at West Virginia University this summer, but will otherwise be relaxing and devouring as many books as she can during her two daughters’ nap times. Connect with Shana on Twitter at @litreader.

What’s Your Book?

I spent most of Monday trying to organize my books. It’s a bigger deal than it sounds. I love books. My husband loves books. Together we have a massive book-loving marriage. And a problem:  Room.

Recently, we moved across town into a space that is just a tad bigger than the one room apartment we lived in as newlyweds almost 33 years ago. So, today we’ve sorted, remembered, donated, and pledged.

“I read more when the books are our in front of me,” my husband said as he put his favorite sales and marketing books on the shelf. “These are the ones I read again and again.”

“I think you should read this book,” he said, showing me Paradigms. “It’s a fundamental


Just one of my to-read-next towers. I’ve also got the AP Lit and Book Love Summer Book Club towers.

book for anyone who is an innovator.”

It’s now atop my to-read-next tower.

“What’s the one book that hooked you as a kid?” he asked as I tried (and failed) to narrow my children’s book collection.

Anne of Green Gables. Easy. ” I said, “Yours?”

My Side of the Mountain.”

Most readers know that one book.

And isn’t it a treat that by definition of our jobs we get to help kids find their books — the ones they want to read, the ones that helps them fall in love with reading — if they haven’t fallen yet?

Today, I’d like to ask you:  “What is your book, the book that made you want to read?”

Our books

Amy Rasmussen lives and works in North Texas. Her classroom library is home to books, books, and more books — all selected to help inspire a love of reading in every single student. Btw, she and her husband have had numerous conversations about the books that made them readers. It was pretty much a first date prerequisite.

Summer Reading: Mentor, Memoir, Music

As any audience of teachers in late May can understand, we’re in that real-time–time warp: The current school year may still be in progress but we are living in the planning of the next. So, in the interest of looking forward — and being inspired by Amy Estersohn’s recent post about book club choices and Lisa Dennis’s about a summer reading list — I thought it might be helpful to share a few titles from my inventory of “Books I Meant to Read This Year but Didn’t” as well as “Books I Knew I Would Have No Chance to Read until Summer.” (By the way, I have no personal or professional stake in promoting any of these books other than inspiring conversation among and providing potential ideas to 3TT readers and beyond.)

Mentors of Our Own180Days_notes

Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle, 180 Days Duh. As you can see I couldn’t help but already start this much-awaited piece of pedagogical brilliance. With their perfect balance of philosophy and practicality, Gallagher and Kittle have managed to land directly in the sweet spot of books about practice. What they offer is just general enough to imagine it happening in our own classrooms and just specific enough for it to be highly practical.

beyond_literary_analysisAllison Marchetti and Rebekah O’Dell, Beyond Literary Analysis I will never forget this question that one of my very first mentors taught me to ask: Do we seek to cultivate aspiring English majors or an informed, critical-thinking citizenry? (I know, I want both, too. Alas.) Lisa Dennis discusses in this post the limitations — and, even detriments — to student writing that the traditional literary analysis imposes. Even without having read it, just knowing this book exists fuels my determination (on students’ behalf and my own) to refuse that pain and suffering for even one more year.

Potential Book Talks (or not): Memoir

When They Call You a Terroristpatrisse khan-cullors & asha bandela
The Girl Who Smiled BeadsClementine Wamariya

cultural_memoirWho says we shouldn’t judge books by their covers — and their titles? I won’t apologize for instantly loving these books for their beautiful, ethereal covers and alluring titles. What a happy coincidence that each is filled with the pathos of personal experience that makes memoir so compelling in addition to an earnest and essential reminder about the human beings that live and struggle behind the headlines and the hashtags.

The Recovering (Leslie Jamison) and You All Grow Up and Leave Me (Piper Weiss)memoirs_reading.jpg

Based on what I’ve read so far (30–50 pages of each), neither of these would be near the top of a classroom book-talk or mentor-text list for my classes. But man are these stories irresistible (in this amateur reviewer’s opinion). Weiss’s craft is most apparent in her arrangement of alternating time periods and varying expression of voice, while Jamison’s tends toward stylistic elegance. Due to their “mature” subject matter and in the interest of healthy boundaries, I’m likely to continue reading these not as a teacher but as a regular, private citizen-bibliophile.

Music-Inspired Mentor Texts

abdurraqibThey Can’t Kill Us ‘Til They Kill UsHanif Abdurraqib. The provocative cover of this collection of music/cultural criticism has been taunting me from my shelf all year, even more so after I read an excerpt from Beyond Literary Analysis (see above) in which Marchetti and O’Dell write incisively about channeling students’ love of music into analytical writing. In the book’s introduction, Eve L. Ewing writes, “Abdurraqib makes you realize that the music you listen to isn’t about People Like Us, because it turns out all of us are People Like Us. All of us are frightened and heartbroken and ecstatic and mourning and in love and driving fast down the interstate, and we are blessed enough to live in a time when there are plenty of artists adept to holding that mirror.” Just from this mentor sentence alone, students can practice the power of polysyndeton! From there, I can’t help but imagine students building analytical bridges between the music they love and the qualities that give the music that power.

Creative QuestQuestlove. questloveI’m pretty sure many of my students in Advanced Writing left the course still skeptical of the notion that artists — even accomplished ones — still turn to the work of other artists to inform or inspire their own. So, next year if they don’t believe me, maybe they’ll believe Questlove. In a section of this inspiring and accessible book called “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle,” he celebrates this practice and discusses “covering” the work of other artists not only as a way to work through an artistic slump but as an act of creativity in itself. Thanks, Questlove, for a refreshing take on the concept of mentor texts. He explains, “That’s another thing that creativity is–taking the existing world and making something new from it.” (BTW, I know that’s going on a handout somewhere.) I really loved his discussion of the MTV series Unplugged, which features popular (and typically “plugged-in”) musicians in a stripped-down, acoustic format. I’m determined to figure out a way to use the series to demonstrate the impact of form and tone.

If any of this summer reading evolves into meaningful, practical lessons, I’ll be sure to post the details. In the meantime, though, I hope there might be something here to inspire you or to add to your own never-ending lists (which I’d love to hear about)!





Saying Goodbye

Today is the last day of school in my system, and as always, we have had a busy week of celebrating the seniors who are graduating and heading off to college or military service or to careers. It’s hard to believe that these young people who (it seems) just needed so much help and guidance at the beginning of the year are about to walk through our doors and out into the world as adults.


This particular group of seniors are near and dear to my heart. I taught them for two years–Sophomore year and Junior year–and half of them call me Mom once a week. I’m the one they come to when they’re sad or when they have good news to share or when they need a safety pin or a band-aid or when they just need a place to hang out. (I’m not the only one–our school is blessed with many amazing teachers. These kids just seem to be especially MINE. 🙂 ) I’m not sure how we bonded so much–maybe it’s because as Sophomores many of them didn’t drive and needed a place to hang out while they were waiting for practice or their parents or whatever. Maybe it’s that I was their only female teacher Junior year and 1 of 2 female teachers Sophomore year. Maybe it’s because about half of them have been on our school/youth group trip to Washington, DC, for the past 3 years. Any of those reasons could be the reason or part of the reason. The bigger reason, though, I think, is that as an English teacher, I’m talking about life. Whatever we’re reading, I’m working to help them connect it to their lives. Because we share our thoughts and our feelings and our loves and our concerns, I think that we also share our hearts, and these kids got two years of that with me. So we’re bonded. (If you’d like to read more about the bonding we do with our kids, check out these posts from Gena and Pam.)

Every year, our seniors choose a speaker for their Senior Day celebration, and this year they chose me. I joked with them that they just wanted to see me cry in a big public way because, you see, I cry at them a lot. I cry about happy stories and about sad stories. I lost it when we read “Richard Cory” and again when we read Brian Doyle’s “Joyas Voladoras .”   It’s what I do–it’s the Irish in me. 🙂 They know me so well now that, whenever there’s something emotional going on, they all turn to look at me to see if I’m crying yet. On Monday, there was apparently a pool going to see when I’d start crying during the Senior Day festivities. Ha! If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to share a little bit about what I shared with them on Monday. I managed to make it through without ugly-crying, but there were certainly moments when I had to stop to compose myself and quell the rising emotion. 🙂

Some of you are nervous to be leaving the familiar and stepping out on your own—how will you fare in a new environment with brand new people—not the same kids you’ve been in school with since K4 or 7th grade or even freshman year? What will it be like on a campus of 1500 people or 5000 or -gulp- 30,000? It’ll be awesome. It will—it’ll be awesome. And sometimes, it’ll be awful. Sometimes you’ll long for those moments when you’re with the people who have known you since First Communion or who watched you through those awkward Middle School years. Sometimes it’ll be sad and lonely and scary. 

Here’s what I know, though. You—and only you—are in control of all of that. No, you can’t control the environment around you. You can’t control when bad things or even good things will happen to you. Sometimes bad things will happen and you’ll feel lost or confused or sad or worried. What I know is that you will always have a choice. Your choice lies not in some magical ability to keep the bad things away but in the manner in which you choose to handle things. You can choose to let the hard things crush and crumble you or you can use them to learn something  and grow. When rocks start to pile up around you, they can either bury you or you can use them as a foundation for the next step forward. That choice is up to you. That doesn’t mean that it’ll always be easy, but you can find something positive in every experience, even if you can’t see it at the time. 

As you say goodbye to your students this school year, celebrate those successes that you had–the little moments of growth and the big steps forward. Celebrate the student who found a new favorite author and the non-reader who has begun to turn the corner. Celebrate the student who moved from barely writing a full paragraph to writing a full essay and the one who comes to you excited about the new poem she’s working on. Celebrate the perpetual student who is always looking for ways he can improve his work and that student who comes to school just because it’s better than sitting outside cold and alone. But what if you have had a year of struggles–maybe you had a tough course load with lots of preps or maybe you had a particularly difficult group of students or maybe you had some tough circumstances in your own private life that sometimes made teaching hard. We don’t live in a bubble–all of these things affect us and inform our teaching and our interactions and who we are. What if that was your year and you don’t feel much life celebrating?

Well, just like I told my seniors…when the boulders start crashing down all around you and when it feels like you’ll be crushed by the weight of life, that’s when you have a choice. You can either let these experiences bury you…or you can find a way to dig through that rubble and start again and use the experiences of this year as a starting point and a foundation to grow upon. That’s the beauty of education. Even though this school year is over and everything is coming to a close, that doesn’t mean that we have to stop and close up, too. Once we have rested and recovered a little bit (thank God for Summer Break!!), we’ll dust ourselves off, shake off the debris, and figure out what we’ll use for building blocks for next year. And then we get to do it all over again.

Happy Summer, friends. You deserve it!

(And for those of you who are still in session for several weeks, please know that I’ll be thinking about you! We go back in mid-August, so our time will come, too. Hang in there–you can do it!)

%d bloggers like this: