The After Thanksgiving Diet

Before we begin, let me put some fears to rest.  This is not a health and fitness post.  I will not be sharing the latest 10 ways to lose 10 pounds before Christmas.  Sadly, in our society diet has become synonymous with ways to lose weight.  In its simplest form, diet means the food and drink we consume.  This post will not be about the food and drink I will be eating after Thanksgiving.  Instead, I want to talk about my holiday reading diet.  It can be easy to get busy during the holiday season.  There’s this feeling that you need to rush here, rush there, buy this, buy that, and then there’s all the cooking, baking, and gift wrapping. It can leave some people feeling like there isn’t much time for anything else.

This year I want to try something new.  Actually, it’s a combination of things I’ve been thinking of and something I saw on Pinterest.


24 gift wrapped books under the tree

Image from Pinterest

Now that I’m not a regular classroom teacher, and I don’t even have a regular sized room, most of my picture books now live at home.  I love Christmas books (and have quite a collection).  I consider them a genre onto themselves.  I have your classics like Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree, The Grinch, and Polar Express. I did enjoy sharing those with my students, but there were others that I enjoyed just as much (if not more).  The first is The Jolly Christmas Postman.

The Jolly Christmas Postman

Image from Amazon

The original Jolly Postman and Other People’s Stories was a favorite growing up.  My sister and I love all the other little letters and goodies that were part of the overall story and how readers had to think about the fairy tales and nursery rhymes the learned as young children. The Christmas version is no different.  Many of your favorite fairy tale and nursery rhyme characters are back for the Christmas season.  The Jolly Postman delivers cards and gifts to all of them.  Along the way we find out that Goldilocks has a new sibling, and so does Bear. At the end of the story it is snowing really hard, the Jolly Postman has had a little too much Christmas cheer (wink, wink) making it hard to ride his bike.  On his way home he stumbles upon Santa’s workshop, and gets a sleigh ride home.  It’s just a nice story about giving and sharing at Christmas.

One of the themes of Christmas I tried to have my 5-7-year-old students understand was the idea that there is more to Christmas than just getting the newest toy or most of the toys on your list. One book that illustrated this theme was Silver Packages by Cynthia Rylant.

Silver Packages

Image from Amazon

I love how the main character in this book never really gets what he wants for Christmas but always gets what he needs.  I think that is an important lesson for today’s youth who many are so used to getting what they want they never stop to think about what they need.  This is a great picture book for older students but don’t be afraid to use it with younger.  It usually took me two days to read and discuss this book when I taught kindergarten.

Along the same lines of getting what you need instead of what you want is the idea of over giving and going over the top.  I know I’ve been guilty of buying too for Christmas. Sadly, I don’t even know if the recipients even remember many of those gifts.  Clark Griswold in Nation Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation was also guilty of being over the top at Christmas and in the process missed out on spending time with his family.   Mr. Merriweather is the same and is the main character in David Shannon’s The Amazing Christmas Extravaganza.  Yes, the same David Shannon of the David books, Duck on a Bike, and Alice the Fairy.

The Amazing Christmas Extravaganza

Image from Amazon

Hands down I would have to say that this is my all time favorite Christmas picture book.  Similar to Silver Packages, the message is that stuff isn’t the most important part of Christmas.  One of the themes in this book is the idea that bigger isn’t better as Mr. Merriweather’s displays get crazy and cause others in the community to adjust their Christmas traditions (too many cars and horns honking for Christmas caroling, the display pulls too much energy that ovens can’t get hot enough to bake).   When Mr. Merriweather’s family start to not enjoy his hard work you would think he would stop, but he doesn’t.  In the end Mr. Merriweather learns the lesson that Christmas is more than decorations.  Also, the ending leaves it open for how Mr. Merriweather might go overboard on an upcoming spring holiday.  That would be a great writing extension.

These books will be part of my after Thanksgiving reading diet, either in school with a third grade classroom a teacher lets me read in or with my own children at home.  While I will include the usual Santa books I really want to make sure that my reading diet (and my children’s listening diet) if full of stories that focus on others and are about the true meaning of Christmas.  The story I hope to consume as part of my after Thanksgiving reading diet is Refugee by Alan Gratz.


Image from Amazon

It is three refugee stories, at three different times in history, all in one story.

I better get wrapping if I’m going to have all 24 books wrapped by Friday!

What do you hope to put on your after Thanksgiving reading diet?


ELA in Primary

I’m pretty sure, if you were to survey the general public about which they think is the most important part of academic instruction in the primary classroom, you would have half the people say Math and the other say Reading.  Truth be told, I really enjoyed teaching both subjects when I was a classroom teacher (funny, I enjoyed teaching reading more when I taught first and I loved teaching Everyday Math when I taught kindergarten).

Currently I have been thinking about phonics instruction and teacher knowledge related to letter sound correspondence.  This old saying, you don’t know what you don’t know until you know, is a great way to sum up what some teacher know about phonics.  They don’t know what they don’t know.  Moats in her article “Still Wanted: Teachers with Language Knowledge” writes about how teachers with less know are over confident in their knowledge–they really don’t know what they don’t know.

I didn’t realize how much I didn’t know!  My undergraduate program did not prepare me to teach reading, especially phonics.  That’s surprising as you think when you go to college it is to help you learn to teach.  It wasn’t until I started teaching first grade reading and phonics when I realized my undergrad classes didn’t prepare me to teach phonics.  At least, the classes didn’t give me enough knowledge about the English spelling system so I would be able to teach it to others.  To help overcome this lack of knowledge, I sought out professional development in the area of phonics, emergent reading, and word study.

While working on my dissertation I came across the Moats article mentioned above.  The concept that many elementary teachers lack knowledge regarding the English spelling system was alarming but also got me thinking about how I could help.  A PLC, Professional Learning Community, seemed to be the answer.  I’m excited to announce that this school year myself and almost 12 other primary teachers will be expanding our knowledge of teaching phonics.  We had our first session this past week.  It was interesting to hear others say that they don’t remember much of phonics instruction when they were in school or in undergrad.  As the year continues, I’ll try to share some of the topics we discuss and links to any online sources I use.  If you have time, I strongly recommend reading “Still wanted: Teachers with knowledge of language” by Moats.

I’m the Reason, Part II

Recap from Part I-my district has purchased two new reading interventions (LLI and Wilson Fundations), in elementary school I was an awful speller and had a difficult time decoding multisyllabic words, making me the reason why my classmates didn’t get popcorn on Friday or extra recess because I rarely (like never) got a 100% on my Wednesday pretest or Friday final test.

Now onto Part II

So you might be wondering how all the above is related to the title…

Like stated earlier, I had a real spelling problem in elementary.  I also was placed in Title reading every-other-year from 2-5 grade.  Why was I placed in Title reading?  Because placement in Title in that district was based on the CAT (California Achievement Test) results.  I guess you could also say I wasn’t really great at standardized test.  I loved to read, I read a lot and lived in a home filled with books.  There was just something about the CAT that had me doubting and second guessing myself on all the reading comprehension questions.   Because the district I lived in only gave the CAT every-other-year, I was placed in Title every-other-year.

When the Title teacher would pull us to go work in her little room, the work we did was on reading comprehension, as much as I can remember.  We would read aloud a text, mostly in round robin style, and then answer questions orally and in a workbook.  At the end of the school year the Title teacher would recommend that I not receive Title the following year because I could discuss the text we read and I could answer the questions.  My reading problem wasn’t comprehension based but because the district I grew-up in only had a comprehension based intervention that’s what I received.

Fast forward 30 years and now I’m the Reading Specialist deciding what intervention to use on which kids.  I know some of the classroom teachers in my building are very excited about the new interventions we have and some of stated they would like all the students we pull from them to receive a certain intervention.  I think it is great that the teachers in my building are knowledgable enough to know the difference in the interventions and to want their students to receive the same experience.  But, then I think about my time with the reading teacher and how she only used one intervention.  That intervention didn’t work for me.  She, and I, would have been better off if she went back, checked to make sure I had mastered all levels of phonemic awareness and then had a systematic way of teaching me phonics.  That would have been more helpful.

Soon I will have to have the conversation with teachers who only want a certain intervention.  I know exactly how I’m going to start that conversation.  “I think it’s great that you want your students to experience this great program but I want to share something with you.  I’m the reason that’s not a good idea.  I’m the reason we’re going to look at what the students are missing that is keeping them from becoming fluent readers.   Not all students need a comprehension based intervention.  Maybe they’re missing an understanding of the alphabetic principle and need more systematic phonics.”  I will continue to say that I’m the reason we’re doing this because I don’t want one of those students, thirty years from now, writing a blog post similar to this one.

I’m the Reason, Part I

I know, what a strange title, whatever could it mean?  This year I am a Reading Specialist in the school district I was a kindergarten teacher in for 10 years.  I am excited about the change but still not 100 percent sure what I got myself into.  It is an exciting time for my district as this school year two new reading interventions were purchased.  One is an intense comprehension intervention, LLI, and the other is a systematic phonics program (that can be used as an intervention), Wilson Fundations.


Both programs are amazing.  I’ve been a fan of Fountas and Pinnell’s work for almost 15 year, when I first saw them at San Antonio for the first train the trainers workshop on their phonics program.  I haven’t had a chance to teach an LLI lesson, but from the training I had, LLI includes all the components of  the Literacy Collaborative Framework I so enjoyed when I was teaching first grade.  In many ways, LLI reminds me of Reading Recovery but on a larger scale (groups of 3).

Wilson Fundations reminds we of Saxon Phonics.  Saxon Phonics is a systematic phonics program that is very scripted and teaches many phonics rules (some of the rules that are taught are things that many other programs do not teach until second or third grade).  Saxon included coding homework every night, which was difficult for families to help complete because the parents didn’t know the coding rules.  Teaching Saxon Phonics to the whole class of first graders, as a first year teacher, was frustrating.  I didn’t have the skills to differentiate the lessons that first year like I do now nor the student engagement strategies.  I was very glad at the end of the year that my school had chosen to switch to a different program, one that leaded itself better to differentiation, didn’t feel like I was always teaching the to middle, and connected to real reading and writing.  That’s not to say I didn’t learn a lot while teaching Saxon.

Now here’s where the title of this post comes into play.

While teaching Saxon, I finally learned some of the spelling rules I never really understood.  Back story time…  I was a struggling speller when I was in elementary school.  I felt bad for my class as I was the reason they never got the spelling popcorn party at the end of the week.  I was the reason we didn’t get extra recess on Friday–the teacher had to give the spelling test to those that didn’t pass the Wednesday pretest.  Spelling was just hard for me.  Oh who am I kidding, spelling is still hard for me.  Now I understand why spelling, and decoding multisyllabic words, was so hard; I did not have a solid phonemic awareness base.  I didn’t have enough opportunities to practice hearing and manipulating sounds in words.

To be continued…

Back at it?

This, starting to write on the blog again, is like getting back to an exercise plan, you just have to start again!  I haven’t done much writing since this late winter/early spring when I was trying to finish my dissertation.  I wrote the last two chapters of my dissertation in about 2.5 months while it took me over 3 YEARS to write the first three chapters!  Now that my fingers have rested up, similar to a marathon runner’s legs resting up after a race, they’re ready to get back to writing.  Also similar to getting back into an exercise routine, this post is going to be short as I build my stamina for writing.  I don’t want to strain or sprain a muscle (finger or brain).  It is my hope to return soon and share some of my thoughts on what I am reading right now.

Just Finished Reading an Amazing Book



Like many students, I experienced difficulties when it came to reading and especially spelling.   My parents were great in trying to get me all the help I needed (even requesting that I be tested for learning disabilities).  The assessments did not show I had a problem, but later on was discovered I had a vision issue.  I don’t remember much about how I was learning to read in 1st and 2nd, but I do remember how stressful spelling was for me from 1st grade to 5th grade.  A special, public, thank you to my family for helping me complete the evil Spelling Workbook pages each week and especially to my younger sister who would do the word finds for me.  The spelling patterns never made sense and I don’t think the teachers spent a lot of extra time teaching the patterns, or giving extra practice time in school to overlearn the patterns.  I just remember doing the workbook, usually as homework, writing my words 5xs, and using the spelling word in sentences.  But for many of my friends, spelling was easy for them and they couldn’t understand why I kept missing so many on my tests.

I wish this book was around when I was in school.  Not because Ally and I had the same struggles, we had similar struggles, and because Ally is a character I think the 12 year old Sarah would have liked. The book I’m talking about is Fish in a Tree.  Take a few minutes and go read some of the reviews on Amazon.  I think this should become required reading for anyone in a literacy program, administration program, or special education program.

Ally is a student who thinks she’s dumb because she has a hard time reading and writing and therefore has some struggles in school.  Ally is very artistic and carries a sketchbook around with her.  She calls it the Sketchbook of Impossible Things because to Ally, many of the things she has sketched seem impossible to her because of her hard time with reading.  I’m not going to give much more away because it is such a wonderful story but I will add this.  If you have a hard time reading Patricia Polacco’s Thank You, Mr. Falker, (because you start tearing up) you’re going to LOVE this story.

Please share the title of this book with anyone you know who has struggled with learning, has had thoughts of being dumb or stupid, and with all the teachers you know.  This books needs to be in the hands of many so let’s get the word out and get people reading Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt.

As a side note, October is Dyslexia Awareness Month and this would be a great read aloud for this month.

The problem with research

Happy Sunday all!  Before you get on your high horse and remind me that I haven’t written anything in a few days I’m counting today as a win.  Why a win?  Because I’m actually writing something and a day of writing is better than a day of not writing, no matter how many days have passed.

Now onto explaining what I mean in today’s title.  Currently I am working on the reading section of my dissertation.  Chapter 2 for me consists of sections on visual perception, kindergarten readiness, readiness assessments, and emergent literacy.  One of the sub-sections under emergent literacy is reading achievement and that is section I’m stuck on right now.  Not that I do not have ideas about reading achievement, but they are my ideas.  There is an unspoken rule about dissertation writing: writers don’t have the authority to have  their own ideas until chapter 5.  This means I’m trying to find research articles explaining what reading achievement is, how it is measured, and why it is important.  If any of you out in reader land have thoughts or ideas of search terms, please let me know.  I would really like to be done with this section by the end of the month.  Thanks and talk with you later this week.

And as I wrote about earlier–let me know if you spot any grammar issues.