Thursday, December 31, 2015

Must Read in 2015 Challenge

#mustreadin2015 final update

I just read over my original post for the #mustreadin2015 challenge. I had big reading plans and even more plans to post my thoughts after each book I read. I fulfilled part of my reading plans by reading galore- but failed in posting about all the books I read. Whoops! 

Instead of being disappointed in the fact I didn't post about the books I read, I am going to celebrate what I did read. I can honestly say, I truly loved most of the books I read. For the books I did not read, I am going to include them in my #mustreadin2016 list. 

Here is my  list of books:
All Fall Down by Ally Carter
Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan
Ranger in Times Series by Kate Messner
An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson 
Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin
The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart
A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd-
Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff

Additional books I read: (I even found time to read a couple adult books!)
Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graff
The Thing About Leftovers by C.C. Payne
El Deafo by CeCe Bell 
The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin
Orbiting Jupiter by Gary Schmidt
Paper Things by Jennifer Jacobson 
Becoming Nicole by Amy Ellis Nutt
All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
I'll Give you the Sun by Jandy Nelson
Re-read Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia McLachlan 
Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate 
George by Alex Gind 
In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume
Who Do you Love by Jennifer Weiner 
Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella 
All the Answers by Kate Messner
Out of my Mind by Sharon Draper
Rules by Cynthia Lord 
Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavolva by Laurel Snyder 
Landline by Rainbow Rowell 
The 14th Goldfish by Jenni Holm 
A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban 
A Handful of Stars by Cynthia Lord

Last night, after browsing through other blogs, I realized I hadn't listed all the picture books I had read! How silly of me! All I have to say, thank goodness for Amazon Past Orders Option and Goodreads.

Billy's Boogers by William Joyce
I Wish you More Amy Rosenthal
Glamourpuss by Sara Weeks
Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett
I Really Like Slop by Mo Williems
The Gingerbread Man Loose in School by Laura Murray
My Pen by Christopher Myers
Mix It Up by Herve Tullet
Leo: A Ghost Story by Mac Barnett
Max's Words by Kate Banks
Word Collector by Sonja Wimmer
The Boy Who Loved Words by Roni Schotter
Little Red Writing by Joan Holub
Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown
Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin
The Day the Crayons Came Home by Drew Daywalt
Picky Nicky by Cathy Dubowski
Silly Willy by  Maryann Cocca-Leffler
Space Kid by Roberta Edwards 

Holy Moly- I intended to read 10 books;  I ended up reading 48!!   I am beyond amazed at the other books I read. Looking back at 2015, reading all of these books has helped me make connections with students and teachers. I love, love, love recommending books to my colleagues and students! Books bring people together and help us all connect, no matter our differences. 

Joining the #mustreadin2015 challenge has been amazing. I hope that you will consider joining #mustreadin2016.  Look for the link-up on January 5th.  Check out her blog here for everyone's final update for 2015.

Happy New Year! Can't wait to start reading and growing my list of books! 

Sunday, August 23, 2015


I have confession to make....

While many teachers are mourning the passing of summer and starting work tomorrow....


And for so many great reasons!

1.) Drew is starting Kindergarten! YAY! 

2.) I am starting off the school year tomorrow by leading a Professional Learning Session about using mentor texts in writing. And as a suggested from my friend Susan Dee, I am starting off the session by reading the book My Pen by Christopher Myers. As Susan wrote on her blog, The Book Maven's Haven, "is perfect for launching writing work with teachers but it can also be used to remind teachers to look beyond the page to truly see their students as individuals, getting to know their interests, fears, and dreams."
A major focus of my work this year, is to support teachers in seeing past what the students DID NOT do in their writing, and reading..but rather what they did do. We need to build our understanding of what is expected at each grade level in reading and writing, and focus on what the students can do and WILL DO.  "YET" is a word that needs to become central to all teachers vocabulary. Its the word that Kylene Beers talks about in her blog and her presentations. "My student is not yet using exciting verbs, but she will by the end of the year." ( This is also reference in the book The Unstoppable Writing Teacher by Colleen Cruz- highly recommend this book and was the driving force behind my Professional Learning Session).

Susan's quote above brings me back to my reason #1 on why I am excited for the school year... Drew is starting Kindergarten! 

As Drew begins his academic career, my hope for him is to experience the same excitement and love of learning that I had in school. I want his teachers to continuously encourage Drew to be creative and ask questions. For example, just yesterday, Drew and I had a whole conversation about space, the seasons and day and night. He even asked me to text my friend Matt, who is a science teacher, to ask him why there is night and day and what space looks like. I LOVE the fact Drew already knows to be inquisitive and look for resources to answer his questions. Throughout the summer, Drew avidly wrote and drew pictures. His stories were rich with action, crazy characters, and hilarious story lines. The more we read books such as: The Day the Crayons Quit, The Day the Crayons Came Home, The Book with No Pictures, Picky Nicky, and The Adventures of Beekle, the more Drew wrote creative stories and used some of the words and ideas from our books ( I think I created a Writing Thief! WOOHOO!) Drew carefully planned out what would happen and sometimes, would even make a movie of his story using his Legos!

My wish for Drew is to continue this in school. I said to my friends and husband, one of my fears about Drew starting school is being stifled. If he wants to read Lego Star Wars books, Phineas and Ferb books, and Picky Nicky books- let him. If he wants to write about Darth Vadar and fighting Luke Skywalker in the middle of a school yard- let him! If he asks a question about what grass looks like when it is first born (his exact question to me yesterday)- encourage him to find ways to investigate this. 

I am holding Drew's teachers to high expectations, and I don't see anything wrong with that. I want to create a partnership with his teachers that together we support Drew in his learning. I don't want the teachers to secretly say, "Oh boy. I have a parent conference with the DiBartolos. Kara is the Literacy Instructional Coach for the district and she knows her stuff. I better be prepared." Instead, I would love to hear, "Great! I get to meet with the DiBartolos and show off Drew's work. Cannot wait to show how much he has grown since the beginning of the year!" 

Which leads me to reason #3 on why I am excited to start the school year...

3.) I get to work with new teachers and new students! This year, many teachers switched grade levels, which means learning new curriculum. We also hired several new teachers in the three schools I work in. I actually got giddy thinking about how I could support the new teachers. Being at New Teacher Orientation and listening to the "newbies" talk about setting up their classrooms, going to the teacher supply store, creating name tags, book nooks, math notebooks..the list goes on and brought me back to my first year of teaching. I clearly remember being so excited to set up my math centers, reading corner, and my golden ticket prize tree. There is nothing like greeting those new students on the first day of school. The critical thing is maintaining that electric excitement through out the year. I feel like my one of my most important roles as an Instructional Coach is to help the "newbies" and the teachers teaching new curriculum and grade levels, to not lose sight of why we are in the teaching profession. We are in it for the students. Let's not get lost in the "other stuff" that comes along with teaching. Keep centered on the students. Stay positive! 

4.) I made glitter boards for my rooms! I plan on updating them regularly and spreading "glitter" throughout the schools! Here is a great resource for inspiring quotes from scholastic and JoEllen McCarthy: Glitter Boards

So to all my teachers friends out there- CELEBRATE the start of the school year! And I guess it doesn't need to be a secret: I AM EXCITED!

Monday, July 6, 2015

Teachers Write and Old Orchard Beach, ME

Good Morning! 
I am so excited to be joining Teachers Write for the first time! I am a K-5 Literacy Instructional Coach in CT. For the 2015-2016 school year, I am going to be focusing on supporting teachers in writing. Writing seems like a black abyss people are so reluctant to learn more about. Writing is scary! 
I wonder, how can I get teachers excited about teaching writing? I wonder, how can the teachers and I get kids excited about writing? I wonder, as teachers, are we too constraining with our students by assigning topics? I remember as a child be so excited to free write in class. I feel like I don’t see that happening in classrooms as much and that makes me sad. 
So, I have been wondering, how can I become better as a writing teacher? As I thought about this question, I realized what a better way than actually get back into writing myself. I took creative writing classes in college and would also constantly journal. But as life happens, writing fell off the radar for me. I dabbled in blogging, but haven’t written since January. Ack!! I miss writing!
I had an epiphany yesterday:

Standing on the beach yesterday in Maine, I couldn’t help but think about how important Old Orchard Beach is to me. I grew up on this beach. OOB represents so much more to me than just a vacation spot. 
We started coming to Old Orchard Beach in 1989. My father had just been diagnosed with severe OCD and anxiety and was spending time at Yale New Haven Hospital. My mom had always wanted to go to Maine, so she embraced this opportunity and took myself, and my younger sister and brother, to what we deemed the "best place on earth!" Even more excited, our cousins were coming too! 
That first week in Maine was pure magic. My family never left the beach except to go to the Palace Playland Amusement Park, and eat. We learned to body surf, play paddle ball, build drizzle sandcastles, and catch hermit crabs. It was also a time that we were allowed to forget the chaos of home. My mom was so happy during such a stressful time in our lives. But our mom was the rock that got us through and showed us how to have fun and embrace life. 
Every year after, my family would make the trek up to OOB. We'd make plans of where we would have our first Maine dinner, when we would first go to Funtown, and even, how long we would stay at the beach. We made PLANS!! We screamed when we ran to the beach and our bodies fell into the sand. Ironically, after each vacation we would say, "Ok. Let's find some place else to vacation. We are so over OOB." But that never happened! OOB had it all. 
The fist time my husband and I brought our first born to Maine, I cried as we pulled in past Ocean Park. (Granted I was pregnant with our second and it could have been hormones crying!). He looked at me like I was crazy. All I said was, " I have dreamed of this day for as long as I can remember. I always wanted to bring my kids here. Maine is just my home away from home." The crying continued this vacation, as Drew walked on the beach and he went on rides that I had gone on as a kid. Dave kept saying, " Oh boy, Here we go again!" But he would hug me and say, " It's going to be ok!" 
As we were packing up yesterday, after Drew and i spent the morning on the beach and Dave and Nolan spent the morning at the pool, Drew turned to me and said, " I am going to miss Maine. I love Maine. Can we come back?" 
I took his hand, and said, " Of course we can! We will be here for the 4th of July every year after this!" My heart soared with happiness. (And I am getting tears in my eyes now as I write this just thinking about this moment with Drew.) Nothing in the world makes me happier to know I have passed down a tradition to my boys.

And now I wonder, are there places that kids feel the same way about a particular place? If I can have such an emotional reaction being back on the beach with my two boys- the beach that we have been coming to for 26 years, there has to be places kids connect to and want to write about! How can we as teachers capitalize on our students small moments and acknowledge how important those moments are- even if it is "just" going on a roller coaster for the first time, or eating shrimp for the first time. We as teachers, even if we don't think those moments or places are important, have to remember they are important to the little people sitting in front of us. It is up to us to encourage them to write more and get to the heart of their story. 

I know I have written a lot, and I am thrilled I have found a place with Teachers Write to take risks as a writer to not only benefit myself, but for my teachers and students as well.  And look at that, I have finally blogged! I guess I have something important to share! Looking forward to this journey!!
Thank you for reading!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Readers Are More Than Just a Data Point

Assessment season is in full swing in my district. During the month of January and the beginning of February students are administered the NWEA, DRA-2, and a Writing Assessment. We have also begun planning for the SBAC, which will be administered in March. RIT scores, reading levels, projected growth and district benchmarks are swimming around in everyone's minds right now. 

Sometimes, I think, that the focus on data and whether or not a student met the district benchmark leads us to forgetting that there is more to students than just a score earned on an assessment. (Looking back in my blog archive, I actually touched upon assessment in this post: Two Hour Delay Reflection) Clare Landrigan and Tammy Mulligan, authors of Assessment in Perspective: Focusing on the Reader Behind the Numbers, practically recognizes that data can consume the minds of teachers, but present a practical and meaningful way for teachers and administrators to look beyond the data points and step into the reading lives of our students through the  authentic process of Triangulating Data.

As I read Assessment in Perspective, I couldn't help to connect their work to the work I do in my new role as the K-5 ELA Learning Initiatives Teacher in my district. On page 3, the following statements resonated with me, " Many of us have been so busy trying to implement an assessment plan that little time is left to use it to understand our students. What is worse is that the value being placed on the 'high stakes' tests has caused teachers to question how the classroom assessments we have always used to guide our instruction fits into the equation." So often in PLC discussions and in side conversations with teachers, it is quite evident to me how stressed teachers are with the data we collect. Just this past year, we have created common pre and post assessments for the units of study, common formative assessments, unpacked the reading and writing Common Core standards and created PLC goals that would support teachers' SLOs and Professional Practice Goals. While this work was meant to relieve some of the stress of assessment and grading, it seemed to create more of a focus on numbers rather than the students. I think the missing piece to the implementation of the assessments was that there wasn't a true understanding of the assessments and their purposes.  The assessments may have been looked at as unnecessary and additional tests that weren't going to yield any new information. "If we use assessment to understand, not evaluate, then it becomes the key to growth. It is how we use and talk about assessment that makes the difference in the mind set of our readers and gives us the motivation to keep trying to be the best teachers we can be." This is were triangulating the data comes in.

Clare and Tammy make an excellent point. As teachers we need to change the language we use when talking about assessments. Instead of talking in percentages, and how many students did or did not make benchmark, we should be asking more questions and building our Assessment Literacy. We should be looking at not just one, but multiple data points, both qualitative and quantitative, when reviewing assessment data. And as we build our Assessment Literacy, we can continue to build our "literacy literacy". The more we understand and learn about assessments, the more teachers can ask more questions of themselves as teachers of reading.  The common assessments, NWEA, DRA-2 and the writing assessments only give us one snapshot in time of our students. Sometimes, as we review the data, the data does not always align. A student may perform really well on the DRA-2 and fall below benchmark on the NWEA. I always ask, "Why? What further information do I need?" But after reading Assessment in Perspective, I realize I need to take my questions further and ask,  "What is my purpose? What method should I use? What type of data do I need?" Asking those questions leads to so many more questions, that when answered, give us a much better understanding of student performance and students' reading lives.  As Clare and Tammy state, "...buried within all these data points are the stories of our students as readers. Assessment is about the pursuit of understanding our readers, and what we do in that act makes a difference in the life of a reader. The greatest learning has always come from the conversations we have about readers with our colleagues."

With more and more mandates coming down on the teacher profession, it is so pertinent that we stay true to our beliefs and guiding principles as teachers. I love how Clare and Tammy list their "two or three things we know for sure": 1. Assessment is more than a number 2. Assessment and instruction are inseparable 3.Our instruction can meet high standards and still be developmentally appropriate. I whole heartedly agree with each of the above three statements. The statements also brought questions to my mind such as, Have we at PLCs and School Wide Data Teams ever talked about our beliefs as educators? Have we shared our thoughts on assessment and what it means for us and the students? Have we ever talked about ways to engage students in the assessment process? In all honesty, I think we have only brushed the surface of these questions at PLCs and School Wide Data Teams. In order for teachers and students to be invested and engaged in the assessment process we need to go deeper by asking reflective questions, analyzing student work, in not only numbers, but also in the form of notes, observations, and reading and writing notebooks. We have to trust ourselves as teachers and the knowledge we gain each and everyday as we work with our students. "While the Common Core is telling "what we need to teach our kids, it suggests that we-teachers- need to be the ones to orchestrate "how" we will teach and assess the standards. 'The Standards define what all students are expected to know and be able to do, how how the teachers should teach."

Assessment in Perspective has given me a fresh look at assessment. I am excited to bring this new knowledge and fresh outlook back to the teachers I work with. For most of this school year, I felt like I was fighting an uphill battle with the administration of assessments and trying to build everyone's knowledge of the assessments and the purpose's behind them.  I realize, now more than ever, how important it is to validate and value the teaching that is happening in each and everyday in classrooms. Students and TEACHERS are more than just data points. I want to thank Clare and Tammy for writing such a thought provoking professional book. It was the kick in the pants I needed to start fresh in 2015. 

Saturday, January 3, 2015

#Nerdlution15- Keep calm and read a book (or two!)

Over the last few days of my winter break, I have been lurking on Twitter and reading everyone's #nerdlution15 posts. Last year, joining nerdlution opened up a new professional door for me as I joined more twitter chats, and created an inspiring PLN.

I want to keep my #nerdlution15 simple and attainable this year. My goal over the next 50 days is to read as many books as I can. I don't want to set a specific goal of how many books I will read, but rather a goal of getting lost in as many books as possible. I love when I meet characters in books I connect with and have them linger with me long after I have finished the book. For instance, one book I cannot get out of my mind right now is Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. Each of her books connects with me on a level I never thought possible. Fangirl brought me back to college experiences and feelings I seem to have forgotten: the nervousness of the first day of classes, meeting a new roommate, and the most poignant, dating and falling in love in college. It seemed every page I read, I found myself saying, "No way! I remember that feeling! Oh my god- I have been there." Rainbow Rowell is magical as she develops her characters and their relationships. I found myself reliving so much of my college and even high school years through her writing. That is the epitome of powerful and remarkable writing.

“That moment," she told Cath, "when you realize that a guy's looking at you differently—that you're taking up more space in his field of vision. That moment when you know he can't see past you anymore.” 
― Rainbow RowellFangirl

I am not limiting myself to just one type of genre or age group. My purpose in choosing this goal is not just for enjoyment, but to also use it as an opportunity to explore different styles of writing that I can use for my own personal writing as well as with improving my abilities to coach teachers in writing instruction and writing process in classrooms. Writing, in our school community, is an area we all want to grow in! Lucky for me, I have teamed up with Suzanne Gibbs to write collaboratively together and I am hoping my goal of wide reading will us both grow as writers and readers as we work together. I am very thankful I met her at NCTE14. (And insanely jealous of all those attending NerdampMI this summer!)

So without further ado, here is my list of books for #nerdlution15:

(After each book, my plan is to post my thoughts about the book. I find it incredibly helpful to read the posts about books I have already read or plan to read. I want to pay it forward by doing the same for other avid readers. I find inspiration is never ending on Twitter!)

Introduced to this author at the Scholastic Brunch at NCTE14

I had the honor of presenting with Lynda at NCTE14. Her passion about this book was evident. Anyone who has posted about this book gives it rave reviews for its message and characters. 

Introduced to this author at the Scholastic Brunch at NCTE14. I loved Esperanza Rising and cannot wait to get into this book!

I met Kate Messner at NCTE14. This is a must read! 

Read The Fault in Our Stars and Looking for Alaska- enough said! 

All of her work is amazing. This book keeps popping up on my Goodreads, and Amazon accounts as well as on nerdybookclub posts. I cannot pass it up!

I met Ann M. Martin at NCTE14. She is one of my all time favorite authors and read every single on of her Babysitter Club books! 

I was very fortunate enough of hearing Dan speak at the Scholastic Brunch at NCTE14. His description of the story and the reason he wrote this book has stuck with me ever since. 
My friend Elaine recommended A Snickey of Magic. As her reading buddy, I cannot turn away from her recommendations. 
My fellow presenter, Melissa, raved about this book. I scored a free copy through NCTE14! Cannot wait to talk to her about Absolutely Almost! 

And last but not least, I plan to join #vbcbooks. What could be better than talking about books we have all enjoyed? 
Happy Reading and #nerdlution15 to all! And please don't hesitate to throw any other book titles my way!! Picture books, nonfiction, fantasy- I will read it all!