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Read or perish.


This week I posted ten educational books that have helped me. That list could be pages long. But it made me think — while those books help with lesson structure or instructional strategies (recipes and formulas) they haven’t necessarily shaped who I am as an educator.

Here’s a short but impactful list of books that have shaped me, in chronological order:

Harriet the Spy

Are you there God, It’s Me, Margaret

To Kill A Mockingbird

East of Eden

The Shining

Great Expectations (specifically Miss Havisham)


Still Life with Woodpecker

The Handmaid’s Tale

Life of Pi


Keep reading. Keep questioning. Keep thinking.

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Cart, meet Horse.


What are your top ten teacher/education books? My purpose is to curate a list for my student teacher. I’ve given her my extra copy of Notice and Note, and have more that are my go-to’s. I am curious as to what are others–those tomes and scrolls that continue to serve and support.

The thing about education books is they’re a lot like baby/parenting books. You don’t know what you don’t know, yet they’re reassuring or anxiety creating, depending–when you read them before beginning a teaching career, they can help or hurt. The trick is to look at them again in times of need, reflection, and try not to panic.

Here are my current top-ten, not in any order:

What If? Randall/Munroe

Understanding By Design

Reading Strategies

The Book Whisperer

In the Best Interest of Students

Image Grammar

The Writing Thief

Teaching Reading in the Middle

When Kids Can’t Read

Academic Moves

Let me know what you think: what books can’t you live without?

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Keys to the kingdom…

kelly love

Great post from Nerdy Book Club on books adolescent boys may enjoy. Most I’ve read, but there are quite a few new/surprises:

Top Ten Books to Give to Adolescent Boys*

And not only that: that blogroll. Talk about some link love! Check out the blogroll on that site–so many good resources.

I’m not accepting students not reading anymore. This is a ridiculous and terrible situation. After watching #13th, I’m more convinced than ever that access to knowledge, literacy, is the only thing that changes anything…along with the grand conversations, which is creating new knowledge.

*Postscript: I admit – it does make me question the practice of finding ‘books for boys’ or labeling books as girl books or chick-lit. Not sure what to do with that right now, so I’ll just leave it there for the time being.

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Something wicked +1

Architecture of a Story
Architecture of a Story

Is it just me or does one become a veteran teacher far too soon in one’s journey? Meaning, how did I get so old?! Well, as scary as that is, it’s better than the alternative, right Poe?

Allow me to present the context: through December I have a student teacher, and boy oh boy am I happy to know her. She’s going to be a fantastic teacher, wants to do well and jump right in. This has been an especially chaotic start to the new school year for me: our administration takes great care and time to balance the master schedule, so it’s had to change multiple times to get it right. When one considers how many of our students need what is called “Essentials” in our district (it’s probably called that other places, too), it changes the dynamic quite a bit. To the point, for me personally I gave up my planning period and will be teaching six periods a day, so having an eager student teacher/intern will be enormously helpful.

One of the requirements of her program is a three-day scoped lesson, and since she and I are both enthusiastic fans of all things macabre and October, we sat down to discuss a possible text. One of the first short stories I planned on handing over to her was The Monkey’s Paw. I’ve used this story for many years and add the Vimeo film, too. It’s accessible in terms of understanding themes/tropes (be careful what you wish for! Magic has a cost! Be grateful for what you have!) and is grand, classic fun.

And that was the problem.

As I am describing the story, written in 1902, with its archaic language and cultural tropes (exotic foreign lands! Grand Fakir! Seargent Major in the grand India wars….!) her eyes seemed to glaze over, not in boredom, but in overwhelmed fear: these old stories are not this generation’s stories. She’s two years older than my oldest son, and if I may make one sweeping generalization about millennials it’s not that they haven’t read the classics, but perhaps have rejected them because they are not multicultural or diverse. Coming from my old white lady perspective, many of my beloved stories are from a narrow Victorian smelling salts place of overly tight corsets and ladies locked in boxes/towers/coffins.

The Monkey’s Paw is not a place to start when you’re a 23-year-old student teacher.


I put the word out on the Notice and Note page:

I’m going to the well once again — 🙂 I have a great student teacher, and many of the classic horror stories are not in her wheelhouse. We’re thinking of her three-day filmed lessons of doing RL8.3 and a scary story. Things like The Monkey’s Paw or The Raven are not comfortable for her necessarily, so was wondering if anyone knows of poetry or short story horror that’s more contemporary? The guiding question is ‘what do we know as readers that the character(s) don’t know?’ among others. Please and thank you–

To all of you: you honor me with your amazing resources and suggestions. What I think we all struggled with though was at the heart of my question: something more contemporary. I should have just flat-out said: diverse. Multicultural. Not Dead White Guy. Not that there’s a darn thing wrong with dead white guys. Those are some of my favorite guys.

From Notice and Note Educator Experts:

But these are wonderful pieces of literature, and though I’ve used most of them extensively, have some new ones to check out:

The Landlady by Roald Dahl (short story)

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (used this for years) (novel)

Don’t Ask Jack by Neil Gaiman

The Wife’s Tale by Seamus Heaney (poetry)

The Lady or the Tiger by Frank Stockton

Lamb to the Slaughter by Roald Dahl

The Right Kind of House by Henry Slezar

Reverse Insomnia – not sure (?)

The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Cornell

The Adventure of the Speckled Band by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Waxwork by AM Burrage

The Highwayman (romantic/gothic/poetry) Alfred Noyes

Darkness Creeping Neil Shusterman (collection)

Fever Dream by Ray Bradbury

The Veldt by Ray Bradbury

All in a Summer Day by Ray Bradbury

Twilight Zone/Monsters are Due on Maple Street

The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe

The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe

Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allan Poe

The Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe

Three Skeleton Key by George G. Toudouze

Heading Home by Ramsey Campbell

Miriam by Truman Capote

The Open Window by Saki

The Severed Hand by Wilhelm Hauff

Under the Weather by Stephen King

E-books for Stephen King

Cabinet of Curiosities 

The Lottery by Shirley Jackson (I still have students trying to hand me pieces of paper with black dots)

What I found: — ooh there are some good ones here — just bought some Rin Chupaco – these are ancient stories from around the world


And of course, there are always quick films. I have film versions of almost all the classic stories above.

Lights Out – Who’s There Film Challenge (2013) from David F. Sandberg on Vimeo.

Bloody Cuts/Who’s There Film Challenge -some are NOT appropriate, but some are pretty great.

I want to thank you all for your suggestions and insights: it reminds me again that we cannot do this alone. It’s up to my student teacher to poke around and find one that feels comfortable for her now, just like all of us have and had to do. She’s going to craft and curate her own stories to tell — and I can’t wait to hear them!





The Life of Death from Marsha Onderstijn on Vimeo.


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Literacy Dance Party!

Hey, Summer!! Going by too fast, time to dance! Clean out the garage and DANCE!

Oh, okay, I’ll do a little writing first.

Don’t believe me, just watch!

Lisa wrote on the N&N site (and thank you!)

“Thank you for the blog post in which you explain your alliterative days of the week. (I use a similar idea in my history classes.) I now have some drill down questions: Do you read whole class novels? If you have the students write each day, how do you structure the writing? Do you fit in grammar? How do you work with such discrete topics? I find that I like a reading piece to be at the hub of class and then the spokes are the writing assignment, grammar, oral presentation, etc. What do you think?”

These questions made me realize I never stop thinking about this stuff. 


Whole Class Novels:

It Depends.

Usually, no. Unless you count that time I ‘jigsawed’ The Hobbit. And I will do Absolutely True Diary. I prefer to do units that serve both the Social Studies and ELA content areas, and provide multiple texts and genres to serve the unit’s demands. Rarely have I ‘taught’ a whole class novel, and I’m not sure I’ll start now.

Structure Writing:

In 2015 I participated in my second Puget Sound Writing Project invitational, which includes teacher research or action. My contribution included a question I’m still not sure how to answer, and that is, ‘if there’s close reading, can there be close writing?’ given mentor texts, etc. The Writing Thief inspired me.

Also, my writing philosophy is closely tied with my fine arts’ days — throw something down on the canvas, make a mark, and then develop. Direct instruction for writing develops from common things all middle school writers do, and then the feedback/conferencing speaks to the individual writer. I use a lot of portfolios, writing goals, genre exploration, etc. In December for the past several years we’ve done a Drabble-A-Day using a lot of image prompts, RAFTS, etc. WriteAbout is a great resource, too.

Writing Closely Prezi


Sometimes grammar is placed in a mini-lesson, based on things I’m noticing students doing, or not doing. This is when some stations or small group work comes in handy, or information based on exit tickets, quick quizzes, or surveys. Students will always need to know some basics:

  • Parts of speech
  • Sentence structures
  • Active v. Passive
  • Subject-verb agreement
  • Site words
  • ….feel like I’m missing, oh, say, about a hundred other things…

Grammar and writers’ craft are so closely connected, this is rich for close reading with a mentor text and discussion.

I have some book suggestions, etc. I’ll post later. I’ve been enjoying using Grammarly, too, as a way to get instant feedback that’s more precise than any Microsoft Word function.

Discrete Topics:

This is a tough one. Our ELA/SS district’s vision is all about skills. (Spontaneously starts singing Meghan Trainor’s All About The Bass in my head.) On the other hand, they’ve done a great job of providing single title novels, so if a teacher wants to teach a whole class novel she/he can. Over the years, I’ve noticed I usually don’t do a whole class novel, maybe one. Mostly I use short stories, excerpts, poetry, etc. and am heavy on the writing.

This may be the toughest to answer. In most cases, I created a unit based on Understanding by Design. This is my palette, and where my teaching creativity resides. There are enduring understandings and then essential questions that are flexible and ambiguous enough to provide multiple access points for students to construct their notions of themes and ideas. We’ve done thematic units such as Journey of the Hero, Voice, Coming of Age, etc. These units include a variety of novels for choice and instructional needs. I always go back to Lucy Calkin’s ‘Black Diamond Ski’ analogy. Read what you want, try to find a ‘just right’ book, but don’t be afraid to stretch.

These thematic units come first, and then the discrete topics help fill in the knowledge to support the big idea, so it really doesn’t matter. Or rather, that’s all that matters.

Note: this is really tough for eighth grade students. Heck, it’s tough for adults. Many of us just want the Q&A, the answer, and the points. And there is some legitimacy to this. If everything was close, deep reading and thinking and we never gave our brains a chance to be bored, or alternate in activities, well, we all know how that turned out.

Not sure if this was helpful, but gave me a great place to start. Sometimes just throwing ideas out there, asking the questions, and hearing others approaches help me the most. Any ideas you think of and want to add please go for it!

PS And now to go find book titles….

And keep dancing!

Older posts that might help:

Gluing the wings back on

National Writing Project

Stitching Together Themes

Memoir Writing Presentation:

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