The Edge of Chaos

Unlike my colleagues who immediately go into a flurry of response to what they learn, I’m currently suffering from conference paralysis. For me, attending NCTE is pretty much the same as sitting on the edge of chaos.  It’s exhausting, loud, and soul searching.  I never quite know what to do next.  And have you read my colleagues’ blog posts?  How can I even begin to follow Jim’s sharing of his heartbreak and how he is turning life experiences into hope and growth? And the musings from Karlen, who is constantly tweaking lessons to make her classroom into a beautiful, inviting environment for readers and writers to learn?  To grow personally and professionally beside them is a gift.  

Yesssss, NCTE was full of aha moments, but my brain just needs a time-out to process all the wisdom I collected over the past five days. My guess is that there are thousands of English teachers who returned to their classrooms this morning on full overload.  Maybe you need this, too?

I present to you the following deep thoughts on attending the NCTE Annual Convention with Crazy One and Crazy Two through GIFs…

  1. Karlen and I getting lost while trying to use Google Maps to get from our hotel to the Convention Plaza:                                                          giphy-2
  2. Jim or Karlen sitting next to me during a session while I’m trying to be a good listener:                   giphy-3
  3. Karlen running into Twitter friends at Starbucks:       giphy-4
  4. Karlen trying to enter the Exhibit Hall on Sunday while I ran the other way: giphy-5
  5. Karlen getting to hang with Penny Kittle for her Book Love session: giphy-6
  6. Jim after getting a Penny Kittle retweet:          yx87VHP
  7. Jim as inspiration hits:                 giphy-7
  8. Me listening to session speakers discussing common practice vs best practice: giphy-8
  9. All three of us getting books at ALAN: giphy-9
  10. What teachers think they look like (in general) when getting free books: giphy-10
  11. What we really look like:                                h0A96F8BF
  12. Teachers climbing into bed at the end of a grueling conference day: giphy
  13. And finally – ME… walking past, standing near, and trying to speak to my author heroes:                     giphy-11

Thank you, NCTE and St. Louis, for the much needed renewal.  Stay tuned for more posts as the 3 lone nuts recommit to sharing ideas and growth in the blogosphere.


The Book Talk

Book Talks are an integral component of rigorous independent reading programs.  I find Book Talks sometimes get tossed aside to save class time or because teachers feel uncomfortable delivering a book advertisement. Tomorrow is the first mini-workshop I will be hosting for my colleagues as our school’s part time Instructional Coach. The goal of this workshop is to provide teachers with some tools to combat Book Talk avoidance.

Today’s blog post is to allow colleagues to preview what will be discussed during tomorrow’s afternoon workshop.  

What is a Book Talk?

A Book Talk is a 2-3 minute speech designed for students to consider a new read.

Why do a Book Talk?

A Book Talk’s purpose is to get students to read a particular book. It is an opportunity for the teacher to convince a reader to try a new genre, or to consider books with different complexity levels.

How do you do a book talk?

There is more than one way to correctly do a book talk!  However, there are a few guiding principles that should be present each time:

  1. Book in hand – use your personal copy or borrow from the library.  Additionally, for further visual effect,  put something on the Smart Board – author’s picture or an image related to book.
  2. Captivating passage – give students a taste of the author’s style or story.
  3. Connect – explain why the passage you chose is important to you and the book.
  4. Sell – explain why your students should consider reading the text.
  5. Reading rate – explain how the text impacted your personal reading rate and how a student in your course might fare with text.

This is the outline I will be using to guide discussion.  Feel free to bring a book you are interested in sharing with students.  We’ll look at them together and create an exciting Book Talk that is ready for delivery!

Title Time

Last year my students were begging for funny books and I made it a goal to find some titles that were worthy of a teacher recommendation.  When I searched my classroom shelves, I discovered my library was definitely lacking in this category. Students have the right idea – humor helps us to escape the darker sides of reality.  When we are laughing at coming of age mishaps and dating disasters we tend to forget the threat of nuclear war or weather disasters.

I Love You, Beth Cooper by Larry Doyle (the Larry Doyle – writer for “The Simpsons”) is a classic “geek loves popular girl” love story. Class Valedictorian Denis Cooverman is in love with the head cheerleader, Beth Cooper. Denis mistakenly decides to declare his infatuation to the entire student body while giving a graduation speech.  The entire novel centers around the reckless choices Denis and his one friend make during an epic night of partying.


There are many, many funny moments in this novel.

“Years later, Denis’s mother felt guilty when she read i her alternative health magazine, Denial, that junk food was linked to an early onset of puberty.  At fourteen, Denis’s puberty had yet to onset, and his mother feared his trans-fatty-acid-and-bovine-growth-hormone-deficient diet was to blame for his pubic postponement” (36).

“She meant that Denis’s face frightened and repulsed her.  Given that only a few minutes before she had found it kissable, that was saying something.  Now, by the light of the submerging moon, Beth could see that Denis’s face, in addition to its previously catalogued irregularities, was a swarming mass of mosquito bites” (236).

Doyle’s writing style invites students to analyze word choice and tone.

“‘I wasn’t afraid,’ Denis wanted to explain.  ‘I was…’ All the words his brain offered up were rough synonyms for fear, from pusillanimous to shitting bricks, and including epistaxiophobia, fear of nosebleeds, and rhabdophobia, fear of being beaten with sticks, two of Denis’s more reasonable phobias, and ones he was soon to have the opportunity to face (along with his agliophobia, gymnophobia, athazagoraphobia, and a few others)” (81).

However, a lot of the novel’s plot events seemed over the top or forced.  

–Beth Cooper’s ex-boyfriend drives a hummer into the living room of a party. Where are the parents? Cops? No one even gets really hurt…

— He also manages to drive this Hummer onto a rickety dock trying to scare Denis and Beth causing no damage or bodily harm. Really??

–Denis gets beat up all night by the ex-boyfriend – his face is distorted by the end (scary and cruel??)

–A ridiculous first time sex scene that puts this book in the “questionable for many 9th graders” category

I wanted the book to be funnier.  I pride myself on being able to appreciate novels students would love and connect to so I was surprised to disagree with many of the positive book reviews.  I wonder what students would think?

So, the search continues.  I’ll keep researching and reading – waiting for the perfect book that will have my students roaring during independent reading time.  I’m going to start with a few  recommendations from Bustle.  Please help my library out by sending along any titles I need to have on my classroom shelves!

Happy Reading!

A Tribute to Mrs. Mary Raccuia

This post is a loving tribute to Trumbull High School’s Mary Raccuia, who passed away last week after a long illness.  She was our beloved Library Media Specialist and will be dearly missed.  Mrs. Raccuia was a voracious reader and enjoyed sharing titles with the lone nuts as she devoured all sorts of contemporary and young adult literature.  While students were able to access her reading posts through the library website, we most enjoyed her chasing us down in the library, waving the next good read.  Thank you, Mrs. Raccuia, for helping the Reading (R)evolution put the right books in our students’ hands.  Your dedication to our profession and kind heart will never be forgotten.


The following is a list of a few books Mrs. Raccuia recommended to us this past spring.  Go ahead and add them to your TBR list – she always had the perfect suggestion. If you are looking for an interactive, online book recommendation site, visit Mrs. Raccuia’s blog.  

Cover Title Author
 everything Everything I Never Told You Celeste Ng
 mosquitoland Mosquitoland David Arnold
 sway Sway Kat Spears
 this-star This Star Won’t Go Out:  The Life and Words of Esther Grace Earl Esther Earl

Lori Earl

Wayne Earl

John Green

 real live.jpg Real Live Boyfriends E. Lockhart
 belzhar.jpg Belzhar Meg Wolitzer
 somewhere in the darkness.jpg Somewhere in the Darkness Walter Dean Myers
 a-man-called-ove A Man Called Ove Fredrick Backman
 rook.jpg Rook Sharon Cameron
 audacity.jpg Audacity Melanie Crowder
 the weight.jpg The Weight of Feathers Anna-Marie McLemore
 alexcrow.jpg The Alex Crow Andrew Smith
 farfar.jpg Far Far Away Tom McNeal
 shallowgraves These Shallow Graves Jennifer Donnelly
 justvisiting.jpg Just Visiting Dahlia Adler
 calvin.jpg Calvin Martine Leavitt
 thanksforthetrouble.jpg Thanks for the Trouble Tommy Wallach
 rosie.jpg The Rosie Effect Graemen Simsion
 unbecoming Unbecoming Jenny Downham
 all the brightplaces.jpg All the Bright Places Jennifer Niven
 thosewhowishmedead.jpg Those Who Wish Me Dead Michael Koryta
 drownedcity.jpg Drowned City:  Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans Don Brown
 dumplin.jpg Dumplin Julie Murphy

Emotions Matter

Happy New School Year!

No matter what district you are working in, the start of the school year always seems to bring about new school and district initiatives.  This year our Administration highlighted two goals during our first professional development days – emotional wellness and raising SAT scores.

Rigorous Independent Reading can help meet a variety of district wide initiatives. Teachers who incorporate voluminous reading into their curriculum will have an easier time addressing mandated goals without having to resort to scripted, canned programs.  I stand by my belief that through literature, most of education’s problems can be solved.

Marc Brackett, Director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, presented to the faculty some of his findings connecting the mental health of students to their learning. From an online survey of more than 22,000 students, Brackett reported that approximately 75% of students felt negative emotions when attending high school.  

How can teachers help students feel positive emotions like hopeful and inspired?  Safe and comfortable? Empowered?  

Psychologists at The University of Sussex studied the connection between reading and stress levels and found that reading for as little as 6 minutes per day lowered stress by more than two thirds.  

In addition to reducing stress, reading fiction also helps students to become more empathetic.  

Literature provides students with the tools to deal with their emotions.  There is nothing better than being able to provide a relevant book to a student who is struggling with an eating disorder, or who is feeling lonely because they are at a new school.  Books connect us. Books help students answer:  Who am I?  Where do I want to go?  How can I get there? Having the tools to ponder these questions help students feel purposeful and confident – both positive emotions.

These thoughts bring me to my summer reading list.  The following are some titles that will help adolescents continue growing their muscles to better handle life’s obstacles. Please put them in the hands of your readers and give them the time to engage in some meaningful reading.

Love Letters to the Dead:  A Novel by Ava Dellaira

“It begins as an assignment for English class: Write a letter to a dead person. Laurel chooses Kurt Cobain because her sister, May, loved him. And he died young, just like May did. Soon, Laurel has a notebook full of letters to people like Janis Joplin, Amy Winehouse, Amelia Earhart, Heath Ledger, and more — though she never gives a single one of them to her teacher. She writes about starting high school, navigating new friendships, falling in love for the first time, learning to live with her splintering family. And, finally, about the abuse she suffered while May was supposed to be looking out for her. Only then, once Laurel has written down the truth about what happened to herself, can she truly begin to accept what happened to May. And only when Laurel has begun to see her sister as the person she was — lovely and amazing and deeply flawed — can she begin to discover her own path” (Amazon).

Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson

“High school senior Tyler Miller used to be the kind of guy who faded into the background. But since he got busted for doing graffiti on the school, and spent the summer doing outdoor work to pay for it, he stands out like you wouldn’t believe. His new physique attracts the attention of queen bee Bethany Milbury, who just so happens to be his father’s boss’s daughter, the sister of his biggest enemy, and Tyler’s secret crush. And that sets off a string of events and changes that have Tyler questioning his place in school, in his family, and in the world” (Amazon).

I Will Always Write Back by Caitlin Alifirenka and Martin Ganda

“The true story of an all-American girl and a boy from Zimbabwe and the letter that changed both of their lives forever. It started as an assignment. Everyone in Caitlin’s class wrote to an unknown student somewhere in a distant place. Martin was lucky to even receive a pen-pal letter. There were only ten letters, and fifty kids in his class. But he was the top student, so he got the first one. That letter was the beginning of a correspondence that spanned six years and changed two lives. In this compelling dual memoir, Caitlin and Martin recount how they became best friends –and better people–through their long-distance exchange. Their story will inspire you to look beyond your own life and wonder about the world at large and your place in it” (Amazon).

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

“Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met” (Amazon).

How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon

“When sixteen-year-old Tariq Johnson dies from two gunshot wounds, his community is thrown into an uproar. Tariq was black. The shooter, Jack Franklin, is white. In the aftermath of Tariq’s death, everyone has something to say, but no two accounts of the events line up. Day by day, new twists further obscure the truth. Tariq’s friends, family, and community struggle to make sense of the tragedy, and to cope with the hole left behind when a life is cut short. In their own words, they grapple for a way to say with certainty: This is how it went down” (Amazon).

The Truth by Jeffry W. Johnston

“When Chris wakes up in a dark basement tied to a chair, he knows that he’s trapped-and why. Eight nights ago a burglar broke into Chris’ home. Eight nights ago Chris did what he had to do to protect his family. And eight nights ago a 13-year-old runaway bled to death on his kitchen floor. Now Derek wants the truth about what happened that night. He wants proof his little brother didn’t deserve to die. For every lie Chris tells, he will lose a finger. But telling the truth is far more dangerous…” (Amazon).

The Reading (R)evolution’s 2015 Go-To Lists

During a recent PLC meeting our department head leaned over and whispered about this time of year really stressing her out.  I looked back with my nerdy book telepathy and knew exactly what she was talking about – the lists. December is when every publishing house and book review organization publishes their “best of” lists.  

While it may be nearly impossible for us to read each and every book, these lists help to keep our book knowledge current and fresh. We also reference them to create book wish lists for ordering time – a real life saver for end of the year crazy.  They can also make purposeful classroom decorations.  Keep them out for students to easily grab.

In the spirit of making lists, here are our Go-To books when students need a recommendation:

Top 10 Frequent Reads in C31, B31, B4

McCaff’s Go Tos

Jalowiec’s Go Tos

Shupp’s Go Tos

Magazine’s Go Tos

Jago – Kittle – Gallagher Recs – from their NCTE 2015 presentation

In addition to the yearly lists, here are a few trusted websites we frequently use to find new reads:

National Book Awards

Young Adult LIbrary Services Association

Nerdy Book Club blog

Teen Reads

Twitter – follow educational experts and publishing companies

What are your go-to books?  What should we add to our’s?

A Professional Timehop


The other two lone nuts and I attended the NCTE 2013 Annual Conference in Boston, Massachusetts.  Inspired by the sessions I attended,  I wanted to improve my best practices and the way my school was remediating the students who needed additional literacy support.  I wandered the conference in search of answers.  I didn’t find them.  What I did find was one particular session presented by Jennifer Buehler and  Daria Plumb that sparked my thinking about using a computer based reading program vs Readers Workshop with young adult literature for intervention purposes.

I took their extensive book recommendation list and my box of ALAN books and decided my first step towards improvement was to become well read and an expert with young adult titles.  My 2013-2014 YA reads included books like:

Winger – Andrew Smith

Between Shades of Gray – Ruta Sepetys

Aristole and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe – Benjamin Alire Saenz

Period 8  – Chris Crutcher

Eleanor and Park – Rainbow Rowell

A Really Awesome Mess – Trish Cook

The Language of Flowers – Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Fever 1793 – Laurie Halse Anderson

Code Orange – Caroline B. Cooney

All I Need – Susane Colasanti

The Loners – Lex Thomas

Orphan Train – Christina Baker Kline

We Were Liars – E. Lockhart

But I was still in search of the big idea.  I still needed to find a remedial reading program that would engage young adult readers.    

In addition to our personal growth endeavors, our district asked us to return from Boston with ideas for whole school professional development.  We created a day long literacy program for our entire school.  With the help of other motivated and talented teachers, we recreated the Boston experience by offering multiple sessions on literacy skills acquisition in content area instruction where teachers were able to share ideas and lessons.


After feeling the professional energy in Boston, we were determined to attend the NCTE 2014 annual conference in Washington, DC.  Thankfully, Jim and Karlen’s proposal was accepted and we were able to go.  As previously documented in blog posts, this was where the Reading (R)evolution was born.  Inspired by educators from Mamaroneck High School in New York, we felt empowered to begin our journey to revolutionize our classrooms and instructional practices.

In addition to Mamaroneck’s session, we were also energized by the Three Teachers Talk session on the Readers / Writers Workshop Model. Their book reviews and lesson ideas continue to be part of my weekly professional reading.  

After DC, we spent an intense amount of time creating our Reading (R)evolution program.  Hours of Google Doc collaborating, numerous text messages and hundreds of miles running together is where the three of us worked through our program’s objectives.  We began the process of meeting with building administration to ask for support and advice.  Their response was overwhelmingly positive.   The three of us learned an important lesson – thoroughly research initiatives and reach out to those who can offer guidance and feedback.  Productive educational reform can happen.


Once the Reading (R)evolution was underway and students were devouring books, we began to focus in on how to assess independent reading.  The collaboration process continued with creating projects and reading challenges.  Grade percentages were debated.  How could we create a reading culture that was safe for students to explore and grow in?  How could we celebrate our students’ reading success?

This was the moment where we created our NCTE 2015 session.  We had attended two years worth of conference sessions on how to create a community of readers, but once that goal was reached – then what?  Answering these important essential questions became a focus area for our program.

In the spring, we asked the educators from Mamaroneck to come and work with our department.  They presented their NCTE session to our entire department, sparking additional interest in adding rigorous independent reading to their daily lessons.  The Reading (R)evolution was starting to grow.  Mamaroneck graciously invited us to visit their high school to see their program in action and we eagerly took advantage of this opportunity.

The 2015-2016 school year began with the addition of classroom libraries.  There are now  12 teachers who have begun to implement rigorous independent reading into their daily lessons.  Our days are filled with professional discourse and book sharing.  Our school’s reading culture is changing.

In October we presented our Reading (R)evolution assessment work at the Connecticut Reading Association.  And just this past weekend we presented at the NCTE 2015 Annual Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota to a standing room only crowd.  We continue to be excited.

IMG_5883     IMG_0977

As for my intervention program?  School administration agreed to using Readers Workshop as an intervention model for my struggling readers.  We are no longer using a computer based program and are seeing incredible results – anecdotally and through standardized testing.  Students who haven’t read a book since 5th grade are begging for additional reading time.  Is rigorous independent reading the answer to remediating literacy skills?  I’m feeling confident I may have found the answer to my question from 2013.

What does your recent Professional Timehop look like?