Posted in Classroom, Literacy, Reading, Reflection, Slice of Life

Slice of Life 2018, Day 28: What I Read

They rushed into our classroom first thing this morning, backpacks heavy, smiling widely. Both girls instantly made a beeline for me, seeking me out ahead of their classmates.

“Mrs. Valter!” The first one announced, words tumbling out of her mouth as she paused to catch her breath. “You’ll never guess how many books I read over Spring Break!”

I know this reader. I know the time she puts into reading, and I know the types of books she usually tackles–thick fantasy stories, the kind you can get lost in for hours.

“Five?” I guessed.

“How’d you know?” Her face lit up even more as she showed me her stack of books while she hauled them out of her bag, incredibly proud that she’d finally read Twilight.

The other girl grinned. “You’ll never guess what I read!”

I paused for a few beats, knowing she would tell me before I could even begin to guess.

“I reread some of the Harry Potter books!” she exclaimed (not a surprise at all).

Then it was my turn to tell them what I read over break and how many books I had finished. While we chatted, I marked my books off on the #MustReadin2018 list that’s taped to the window behind my workspace, noting my progress and how far I still have to go to meet my own goal.

As they went about their day, I paused to wonder: How can I get all of my students this excited about reading? How can I build this kind of relationship with every single reader in my classroom?

While I know I may never reach 100%, I also know I won’t stop book talking, sharing my reading life, or listening when they share theirs. Just because I might not reach them all today or this week or this year doesn’t mean I’ll ever stop trying. After all, you never know which day they will wake up and realize they, too, are readers.

Image result for donalyn miller quotes

slice of life

Posted in Literacy, Reading, Slice of Life

Slice of Life 2018, Day 21: WWW Wednesday

Last week, Tammy at Tammy’s Reading/Writing Life shared WWW Wednesday. This was new to me, so I had to check it out when I saw that she was writing about books. I love the open format and I’ve finally had some time to read over the past few days since we’re on Spring Break, so I’m excited to give this a try today!

1. What Did You Read Last?

Since Spring Break started last Friday, I’ve finished the following books:

  • Turtles All the Way Down, by John Green. I was hesitant to pick this one up turtles.jpgbecause I’ve read some mixed reviews about the pacing of the story from some readers I really respect. However, I’m really glad I decided to give it a try anyway. Like the other Green books I’ve read, this one was also full of intrigue and hope for the happy ending that probably wasn’t going to come. This combination mystery/exploration of mental illness left a lasting impression on me.
  • Granted, by John David Anderson. I fell in love with Anderson’s work when I read Ms. Bixby’s Last Day and again when I read Posted. While Granted is granted.jpgcompletely unlike those stories–it’s a fantasy story focused on the wish-granting journey of a fairy–it still brings to readers the same depth of character and life experiences as his previous two novels. This story was beautifully written and I’m glad it was the first middle grade novel I tackled during my time off.
  • Out of the Dust, by Karen Hesse. I picked up this novel because it’s on my school’s list of titles for Battle of the Books this year, and I wasn’t out of the dust.jpgdisappointed. It’s  a heartbreaking novel in verse, raw and full of emotion. I walked

    away from this one not only feeling like I had been on a journey with the main character but also like I had a glimpse into a part of our country’s history that I never knew about before.


2. What Are You Currently Reading?

I’m working through my #MustReadin2018 List, and am currently reading these two middle grade novels:

  • Me and Marvin Gardens, by Amy Sarig King. I’m currently about halfway marvin gardens.jpgthrough this book, and while it took me awhile to get into the story, I’m beginning to appreciate the messages about friendship, loyalty, and respect this book holds for readers. I’ve also gotten to the point where I can’t predict the ending and I’m anxious to find out how everything turns out!
  • The Problim Children, by Natalie Lloyd. I’ve read a few other books by Lloyd, and am always captivated by her approach to fantasy and magicproblim children.jpg. Right now I’m about 40 pages into this middle grade novel and am still trying to keep the many characters apart.


3. What Are You Reading Next?

Several books have spent quite awhile gathering dust waiting to be read on my nightstand. These titles are up next this week:

night gardener.jpg      smell.jpg

What books are you reading during Spring Break? Please link or share ideas in the comments!


slice of life.jpg

Posted in Classroom, Literacy, Read Alouds, Reading, Reflection, Slice of Life

Slice of Life 2018, Day 15: A Recipe for Lifelong Readers

Yesterday I wrote about the beauty of just sitting back and watching several of my readers in class this week. Many people commented about sharing how I got to this point in the year with my class, so I decided to turn my thoughts into a fun little recipe for Growing a Lifelong Reader. Bon appétit!


  • 26 fifth graders of varying abilities and interests
  • Hundreds of books in a variety of genres, lengths, levels of difficulty and formats (make sure to pick out some strong graphic novels and picture books–they will not be wasted)
  • Plenty of time each day
  • 1 teacher who is a passionate reader

To create lifelong readers:

  1. Spend the summer before the new school year reading as many books as you can get your hands on. Stock and organize your library in a way that is accessible and exciting for kids. Focus on making this space appealing instead of driven by letters and levels (the kids will find the right books, trust me).
  2. Welcome students on the first day with a smile and a read aloud (if you’d like a suggestion, School’s First Day of School is a great way to kick off the year). This will become the first book of your daily #Classroombookaday read aloud.
  3. Give the kids space and time to explore the library. Notice their interests while they browse by observing closely, chatting casually, and paying close attention to which books are snapped up right away. An interest inventory will also give you valuable information about reading attitudes.
  4. On the second day of school, haul every bin of books off the shelf and set them around your room. Create an assembly line of kids and make sure every student browses every bin to make a “Must Read in 5th Grade” list. This will allow them to get their hands on every single book in your classroom to see new prospects and old favorites.
  5. Dedicate non-negotiable time to reading. Give the kids an opportunity to sit and read a book of their choice every day. Talk to them, listen to them, watch them, notice them. But don’t deny them access to this time. It’s crucial.
  6. Establish routines: #Classroombookaday (a picture book read aloud every single day); It’s Monday! What are you reading? check-ins once a week; Status of the Class; and digital Padlet walls to celebrate every book a student finishes.
  7. Book talk as often as possible. Allow the kids to see you as a reader. Be honest about the books you love and the books that didn’t resonate with you–and reinforce that each reader gets to form their own opinion about a book.
  8. Don’t forget to give kids opportunities to talk about books, blog about books, do their own book talks, and share recommendations. Developing that social reading identity is critical.
  9. Read aloud the best novels you can find. Give kids a voice and a choice in which books are selected, making sure to select various genres and main characters. Check to make sure that this is as important to the class as it is to you by seeing how angry they get when you have to skip a day.
  10. Around mid-November, host a book tasting to re-ignite the excitement for reading. Create ambiance with some cheap tablecloths and battery-operated candles and bring in some snacks. Snacks, obviously, are essential for the success of this experience.
  11. When you return from winter break, set new year’s goals–and model your own with a #MustRead list. I recommend making your own list visible in the classroom and crossing off each book as you read it to show students how you progress toward lofty goals over time, too.
  12. Get yourself through the doldrums of March with a March Madness book challenge. Encourage students to nominate their favorite books, then savor the competition as the book battle begins.
  13. By Spring Break, celebrate the growth you have seen. Not every reader will become a lifelong, passionate lover of books overnight, but with a strong example, plenty of time and books to choose from, and a cheerleader providing ample access to books, most will turn out just right.
Posted in Classroom, Literacy, Reading, Slice of Life

Slice of Life 2018, Day 14: Readers

Today, on a sunny Tuesday morning when we’re all counting down to Spring Break, I decided to forego reading groups, skip conferencing, and let go of accountability. Instead, I positioned myself at the perimeter of the room and I watched my students read.

I watched Autumn*, who took the whole first quarter to finish a single book, set down Echo with a sigh of contentment. This is the third novel she’s read since the beginning of February.

I watched Brian, who reads slowly but surely, get lost in his latest Mike Lupica novel. Though he is far from my strongest reader, he refuses to abandon books, knows what he likes, and thinks so deeply about the characters–almost as if they become more real to him by savoring every page.

I watched Breanna, an avid reader from the day she arrived in our classroom. Today she was racing through the pages of The Parker Inheritance, devouring every word. She was completely lost in her own world, and I was glad I had read the book a few weeks ago so we could talk about that world later.

I watched Mary, who arrived last August having perfected the art of avoiding reading. I didn’t see her look up from her Babysitters Club graphic novel once.

I watched Chase–a boy who never sits still–not move a muscle as he dove into Sunny Side Up for the third time this month.

I watched Aaron read his first lengthy novel of the year. I never thought he’d stretch himself beyond the graphic novels he dearly loves, but now he has his nose buried in a hefty mystery.

I watched them all, each of them a Reader today. Not Good Readers, Bad Readers, Strong Readers, Struggling Readers, or At Risk Readers. Just Readers, each spending a sunny Tuesday morning lost in a book in my classroom.

*All names are pseudonyms to protect privacy

Posted in Classroom, Literacy, Reading, Reflection, Slice of Life

Slice of Life 2018, Day 2: New Books

There is a magic to being the first one to read a new book.

When I was a little girl, my teachers religiously sent home the Scholastic flyers each month, covers of joke books and adventure books and picture books and trinkets jumping off the front page. Most of the time, if I was lucky, I was able to choose a book or two to order.

There was nothing like the day those books arrived, the order slip neatly tucked into the cover of the top book on the stack. The covers were always shiny, not yet worn or dulled by fingerprint smudges. They smelled of ink and paper. The words were ready to be read for the first time.

I haven’t outgrown those book orders. Yesterday, as I sat down to lunch, I noticed a telltale white and red Scholastic box wedged into my mailbox, a box that arrived much more quickly than I anticipated.

Inside the box were brand new copies of books I’ve been waiting anxiously to add to my classroom library: Raina Telgemeier’s Babysitter’s Club graphic novels, Rita Garcia Williams’ Clayton Byrd Goes Underground, and, best of all, Erin Entrada Kelly’s Hello, Universe, the cover not yet adorned with the Newbery medal awarded only days ago.

There was a time when those books would have gone straight into my library, but not today. Today was a day for celebrating new books.

As my class returned from P.E., chatting about the latest fifth grade drama and joking with one another, my kids were struggling to settle down. Until, that is, I brought out the stack of new books and began talking. I told them all about how Ann M. Martin’s Babysitter’s Club books had captivated me as a child and how excited I was to read the graphic novel adaptations. I shared with them how I read Clayton Byrd on my summer trip to Florida last year and how Clayton’s escapades sucked me into his story. I introduced them to the characters in Hello, Universe, inviting them into the book to get to know each of them a little better.

As I held up each book, I could feel tension building in the room. Eyes darted this way and that, sizing up the competition. A few students simply stood up and walked to the front of the room, unable to wait until independent reading started to get their hands on one of the books. Others whispered to one another, “I call that one!”

When I finished book talking each of the titles, hands shot up in the air. Unable to devise any better system, I randomly drew class numbers to simultaneous shouts of “Yes!” and groans of disappointment. Within moments, each book had been claimed and noses were buried inside. Most already had post-its fastened on the covers, lists of the names of those waiting for a turn with each book filling the small squares. Hello, Universe had found its way into the hands of my most reluctant reader, who didn’t pause until page 20.

Yes, there is definitely magic to being the first to read a new book.Screen Shot 2017-12-02 at 6.09.23 AM

Posted in 2017, Classroom, Literacy, Reading, Reflection, Slice of Life

#SOL17 It Matters To Be a Teacher Who Reads

No automatic alt text available.

I have been a voracious reader as long as I can remember. My childhood memories are full of long and happy hours spent with Clifford the Big Red Dog, my friends in the Babysitters’ Club, and everyone’s favorite female sleuth in practical pumps, Nancy Drew. Middle school was spent living through the terrors on R.L Stine’s Fear Street, followed by a graduation to the true horror of Stephen King in high school. Quite simply, I can’t remember a time when there hasn’t been a book on my nightstand.

As I started teaching, I would have told you I brought my love for books into the classroom. I filled my classroom library with fantastic reads, both new and classic–or, at least, I was told they were fantastic. Some I read as read alouds; others I skimmed to prepare for working with book clubs. But way too many of the amazing books on my shelves were never opened by me–and, therefore, never opened by my students.

Fast forward to two summers ago. After eight years in the classroom and four years as an instructional coach, I thought I had everything figured out. I loved literacy and everything related to reading and writing. I felt confident in my knowledge of good instructional practices. I had a shelf overflowing with amazing professional books and was regularly leading professional development around literacy.

But then I attended the ILA conference and the world shifted. As I sat there, immersed in literacy for four days, the margins of my notebook quickly filled with title after title of outstanding books. Someone handed me a copy of The One and Only Ivan. And I began to really read for the first time in a long time.

I spent the rest of that summer reading middle grade and YA novels, then continued throughout that school year. Last summer I participated in Donalyn Miller’s summer #Bookaday challenge, the stack of books on my nightstand constantly threatening to tip over. I signed up for the selection committee for our state’s book awards and subscribed to the Nerdy Book Club blog for regular updates of new and upcoming titles. I read books that made me laugh, books that have made me ugly cry, and books that have taken me completely out of my reading comfort zone. I have held my breath as Peter and Pax tried to find their way back to each other and mourned Ms. Bixby. Over the past two years, I have transformed myself into a model of the kind of reader I want my students to become.

And, I learned very quickly, it matters.

It matters because of the student who had a copy of Raina Telgemeier’s Sisters on her desk whose face lit up when I asked her if she’d also read Smile.

It matters because of the fourth grader who visits my office to chat with me about Charlotte’s Web.

It matters because of the first grader who stopped and talked to me about our favorite Dog Man book in the hallway yesterday afternoon.

It matters because of the fifth grader who raised his hand to get my attention during standardized testing last week because he wanted to tell me he started reading The Honorable Perry T. Cook after I read a chapter aloud in his classroom several weeks ago.

It matters because of the third graders who showed up at my office door to borrow Fenway and Hattie after I shared a chapter with their class.

It matters because of the teacher who asked to borrow Pax for a class read aloud after I used an excerpt in a training.

And it matters for my own children, who I can only hope are someday inspired by teachers who love to read, too.

Note: Just as I prepared to hit publish on this post, this fantastic piece by Pernille Ripp popped up in my inbox with some outstanding ideas on how to be a reading role model!

I’m excited to join other writers every Tuesday (and daily during the month of March) in 2017 to participate in the Slice of Life writing challenge through Two Writing Teachers. Read all about how you can Write. Share. Give. on their website here.


Posted in 2017, Classroom, Literacy, Reading

My #MustReadin2017 Update

At the beginning of the year, several bloggers I follow started posting their #MustReadin2017 lists, and I was instantly inspired. I traced their posts back to Carrie Gelson’s site There is a Book for That, where she extended an open invitation for readers to create, post, and share their own #MustReadin2017 lists. I combed through my Goodreads list, blogs, and the Nerdy Book Club’s 2016 Middle Grade Nerdies to compile the list I posted here, a total of 30 books I hoped to read by the end of this year.

Since then, a printed copy of this paper has sat on my 
desk, getting shuffled into one pile or another. Occasionally, I take it out, grab my blue marker, and cross another book off the list. Sometimes I refer to it while I’m on the library’s website to request a book when I’m out of inspiration (that doesn’t happen very often). Other times I look through the books I’ve already read and reflect on the ones I want to recommend to other readers.

This week, Carrie invited those of us who decided to participate to check in and share our progress. Much like the work we do sometimes with data, I immediately thought of just sharing my number: I’ve read 23 of the 30 books I challenged myself to read. A few of the remaining titles are on my nightstand currently. I’m waiting for a few more from the library.

But that doesn’t tell the story.

The story is that I love to read and I always have, but I also fall into pretty consistent reading patterns. I frequently get hooked on a particular author or series. I love realistic fiction, especially if it is dramatic. I do love to read middle grade and YA books, but shy away from fantasy and mystery and sports stories.

While this list didn’t completely push me out of my comfort zone, the story behind this check in is that it has done some powerful things for me as a reader:

  • It has pushed me to finish books I would otherwise have tried to abandon. The Inquisitor’s Tale and When the Sea Turned to Silver were amazingly-written books that were both highly recommended, but they were both out of my reading comfort/interest zone. I really had to push myself to not put them down–and I’m glad I didn’t.
  • It has kept me more focused. So often, I see a great book and mark it on Goodreads…and then forget it exists. Having this list in hand has kept some important books front and center for me the past few months.
  • It has helped me connect with other readers. Seeing the same books on someone else’s list automatically makes you feel connected with that person.
  • It has guided me to be a more committed reader. I already read voraciously, but this list has empowered me to become a little more committed to finding and reading particular titles. Knowing there would be check-in points throughout the year has supported me in not forgetting this list.

When I think about all of the benefits of participating in this community, I look forward to offering students the choice to create their own lists when I return to the classroom next fall. I can’t wait to explore the potential of adding this to my toolbox for building a reading community–and I can’t wait to knock out the remaining books on my own list in 2017!


Posted in 2017, Reading, Reflection, Slice of Life

#SOL17 Day 27: At This Moment

Tomorrow we return to school after a week off for Spring Break. As I think about the end of a fantastic week and the work week(s) ahead, I’m borrowing today’s format from Maura at A Work in Progress.

Thinking about: All of the fun my family had over Spring Break, how we will manage to get out of the house by 7:30 tomorrow morning, and all of the changes that lie ahead as my school transitions during the rest of the school year.

Thankful for: My kids, my husband Daniel, my parents and brother, my extended family and husband’s family, and the health and security of the life we’ve built.

Wishing For: One more day of Spring Break!

Planning For: Transitioning back to the classroom in the fall, my son starting kindergarten, summer activities, and the rest of my coursework for this semester.

Reading: Right now I’m juggling The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (everyone has been buzzing about this one and so far it’s amazing!) and finishing Understanding by Design for class on Thursday.

Watching: At this very moment, ShrekMoana is also a favorite at my house right now. When the kids aren’t around, I’m obsessed with This Is Us and Daniel and I have been trying to make time to finish The Girl on the Train for about a week.

Listening to: When the kids are around, the Moana soundtrack. By myself, Hamilton. (Lin Manuel Miranda is getting a lot of airtime at our house.) In the car on our drive to and from Chicago, Daniel and I streamed 90s Alternative to try to relive our college days. With Moana playing on the DVD players right behind our heads, it wasn’t quite the same.

Mood: Wistful. Savoring the last moments of Spring Break with my kids and trying to take a few more moments to relax before things get hectic again.

The more I think about this writing format, the more I like it! This would be a great format to use with kids to ease them back from their time off, too!

I’m excited to join other writers every Tuesday (and daily during the month of March) in 2017 to participate in the Slice of Life writing challenge through Two Writing Teachers. Read all about how you can Write. Share. Give. on their website here.

Posted in 2017, Classroom, Collaboration, Literacy, Reading, Reflection, Slice of Life

#SOL17 Day 21: Five Things About Fifth Grade (Part 1)

As I’ve been thinking about my upcoming return to the classroom and placement in fifth grade next year, millions of thoughts have been running through my head. Here are five things that make me excited about this next adventure:

  1. Working to create lifelong readers. I can’t wait to put the right books in the right kids’ hands. I can’t wait to participate in the Global Read Aloud. I can’t wait to work with reluctant readers and (hopefully) reach as many of them as possible.
  2. Teaching writing every day. I’ve had many opportunities to model lessons over the past several years, but there’s something magical about taking a group of kids from the beginning to the end of a unit. (I also can’t wait to participate in the Classroom Slice of Life challenge next March for the first time!)
  3. Creating a classroom that is truly student-centered. I’m so excited to give kids a voice in their own learning and to get to know them as we build a community together.
  4. Implementing and applying all of the learning I have done over the past six years as a mentor. I’ve had so many incredible experiences, worked with some absolutely amazing people, and observed countless classrooms. I hope I can put all of my growth together to create a fantastic learning experience for my students!
  5. My new team! Each of them has fifth grade experience, and not only are all of them fantastic teachers, but all are also genuinely wonderful people. I can’t wait to see what we will accomplish together!

I’m excited to join other writers every Tuesday (and daily during the month of March) in 2017 to participate in the Slice of Life writing challenge through Two Writing Teachers. Read all about how you can Write. Share. Give. on their website here.

  1.     slice-of-life_individual