Archive for February, 2012

Inside notebooks – Ralph Fletcher

We continue our Stenhouse author notebook series with Ralph Fletcher. Here is what he said about his notebook habit, which has been going on for quite a bit, as you can see from one of his notebook covers:

“When I visit schools I tell students that my most important book is a book that has never been and never will be published–my writer’s notebook. This is the book that feeds all my other books. I use my notebook in many different ways: to collect odd bits of flotsam and jetsam, to play with language, to react, muse, daydream, collect seed ideas, maybe take a stab at new poem. My notebook is a low-pressure, high-comfort place where I can find my stride as a writer.”

1 comment February 29th, 2012

Inside notebooks

“The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it, useful only accidentally, only secondarily, in the way that any compulsion tries to justify itself. (Joan Didion)

What’s in your notebook? What does it look like?

For the next few weeks we’ll be taking a peek into the writing habits of Stenhouse authors who have graciously agreed to give us a glimpse into their notebooks. We invite you to share pictures of your notebooks as well — just visit our Facebook page and upload a photo with a brief comment about why and how you keep a notebook. We’ll select a few entries randomly to receive a free Stenhouse book.

We’ll start off our series with the notebook of Stenhouse editor Bill Varner. I noticed it on a pile of papers on his desk and asked him to take a quick photo and share his thoughts about keeping a notebook. Here is what he said:

“I’ve had a notebook off and on for many years. Mostly off. I used to scoff at paying for anything other than a cheap spiral bound notebook, but this black Moleskine is worth the price. It makes me want to write in it. What do I write? Mostly stray lines, a metaphor that pops into my head, an interesting quote, words that I just find fascinating, especially verbs.”

1 comment February 28th, 2012

World Read Aloud Day is March 7 — how will you celebrate?

Worldwide at least 793 million people remain illiterate.
Imagine a world where everyone can read…

This year Stenhouse will join LitWorld along with other organizations, publishers, schools, and teachers, to celebrate World Read Aloud Day on March 7. We have an exciting lineup of Stenhouse authors reading from their children’s books right here on the Stenhouse blog: Jennifer Jacobson, Ralph Fletcher, Carolyn Coman, and Georgia Heard.

LitWorld founded World Read Aloud Day in March 2010 as an awareness day advocating for literacy as a right that belongs to all people. World Read Aloud Day motivates children, teens, and adults worldwide to celebrate the power of words, especially those words that are shared from one person to another. By raising our voices together on this day, we show the world’s children that we support their future: that they have the right to read, to write, and to share their words to change the world.

How will you celebrate World Read Aloud Day? Here are some ideas:

Read aloud with loved ones or new friends and talk together about the importance of global literacy, marking this as a special day of reading! Visit the LitWorld website for recommendations, worksheets, read-alouds, videos and other resources to help guide and inspire you.

Spread the word about World Read Aloud Day and the Global Literacy Movement to your friends and followers or host an event in your area to rally around this urgent cause. Help us reach more than one million participants, joining forces and reading together in honor of this day.

Share World Read Aloud Day with friends across the globe by using video chat and tuning into LitWorld’s special live webcasts. When you register for World Read Aloud Day at, let us know if you would like us to match you up with a special guest reader!

Check back here on March 7 to hear our authors read and to share your stories of how reading has changed your life.

1 comment February 22nd, 2012

Questions & Authors: Priming Students to Write

In the latest installment of our Questions &  Authors series Mark Overmeyer shares his ideas for getting students in the mood for writing. Getting students in the right mindset before writing workshop can set them for success and might provide you and students alike with some funny moments. Mark’s latest DVD, How Can I Support You: Strategies for Effective Writing Conferences will be available soon on the Stenhouse website. Mark is also the author of What Student Writing Teaches Us and When Writing Workshop Isn’t Working.

Priming Our Students to Write

I have been reading psychologist Daniel Kahneman’s fascinating new book Thinking, Fast and Slow, and I am surprised at how often his ideas have resonated with me as a writer and as a teacher of writing.

Early in the book, he defines the “priming effect” as the unconscious influences different associations create in our brains. In one experiment, college students were asked to complete a series of word association exercises. Students who were asked to work with words that evoked ideas about old age (e.g., forgetful, bald, gray, wrinkled) walked more slowly down the hall when compared to students who worked with words that did not evoke age. This idea of unconscious priming led to other studies, including one in which participants rated themselves as happier when they were asked to smile for a short time.

I began to wonder about how we can prime our students to be successful during the writing workshop. Here are some tips that may help you create a space where students want to write (or, as Kahneman might say, where your students will be primed to write):

1.    Enthuse. Be enthusiastic when you begin your writing workshop. Let students know that you enjoy teaching writing, and that you like reading what your students write. I have become somewhat skeptical of the obsession with rubrics lately – though I do believe rubrics help us to assess students fairly, and I also believe they can help students understand what is expected of them, rubrics can also drain enthusiasm from a writing classroom. When you begin a conference with a student, wouldn’t it be much more meaningful to begin with honest praise rather than the sharing of a rubric score?

2.    Model. I recently visited a fifth grade classroom in a school I have been working at for many years. One of the students, now 10 years old, asked about my cat Milo. She remembered my “Milo is a Lazy Cat” essay from when she was a third  grader. Then she said: “I wrote about Skittles my ferret in third grade.” I was so excited to reconnect with Madison: “Skittles! I remember! The troublemaking ferret!” When we model our writing process for students, they remember. I only spent a few minutes several days in a row showing my thinking about how to craft an essay about Milo the Lazy Cat for Madison’s class, but she remembered it. When we model for students, we do not have to be perfect. It is better if we just honestly work through the process of developing ideas, framing a story, or revising an initial draft of a poem. We can prime students to want to write merely by showing them that we also write…

3.    Laugh. Every writing workshop can be a place filled with laughter during appropriate units of study. During a poetry unit, fill the room with titles by Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky alongside books by Ralph Fletcher and Cynthia Rylant. During a personal narrative study, keep all the classic books you love from Patricia Polacco and Jane Yolen, but include excerpts from Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney and Knucklehead by Jon Sciezska.  Check out this lead to one of Jon’s hilarious memories about growing up with five brothers:

“Watch your brothers!”
That’s what my mom used to tell me and Jim – “Watch your brothers.”
So we did.
We watched Jeff roll off the couch.
We watched Brian dig in the plants and eat the dirt.
We watched Gregg lift up the toilet lid on the toilet and splash around in the water.

Of course the writing workshop should be a place that allows for and welcomes all emotions. I have shed tears many times with students as they share memories of losing a pet, a grandparent, or a friend. These emotions are real and should be encouraged. I am just advocating here for priming our students to feel welcome in a place where they can tell their stories – even (and maybe especially) the funny ones.

4.    Specify. The more specific I am during mini lessons and conferences, the more writing happens in my classroom. I try to keep in mind that the purpose of the writing workshop is to help everyone get better at writing, so I am as specific as I can be during mini-lessons. I might say: “Today, I am going to teach you how to make your personal narratives even better with dialogue that shows, and doesn’t just tell…” The other place to be specific is during a conference. Last spring, I had the opportunity to work with a fifth grade student as he revised his personal narrative, and I said: “VaShawn, you are the kind of writer who can tell a story with a great punchline. You had all of us laughing so hard when you told about the time you fought back at the petting zoo when an angry goat tried to butt you from behind. Since you are so good at coming up with an ending, I wonder if we could talk today for a few minutes about leads…”

Being specific forces us to have intentions as teachers of writing, just as we want our students to have intentions as writers. Intentional, specific teaching does not limit our students – it allows them to grow because it requires us to be very engaged as teachers. A classroom full of specific teaching points, clear model texts, and a course of action resulting from a goal setting conference primes students to see the workshop as a place where they can flourish as writers.

2 comments February 15th, 2012


Here are some more smiling Stenhouse authors signing their books at last week’s Reading Recovery conference in Ohio.

Tony Stead with a fan

Katie Keier (right) and Pat Johnson

Peter Johnston signs a copy of his new book Opening Minds for Katie Keier.

Stenhouse authors Kassia Omohundro Wedekind also got in line to get her copy signed.

Add comment February 13th, 2012

Tidbits from the blogosphere

There are a couple of things happening around the web that I wanted to share with all of you.

First, I want to mention that for the first time Stenhouse is going to participate in World Read Aloud Day on March 7. Check back to find out more in this space closer to the date, but I think we have some very exciting authors and events lined up. Find out more about Read Aloud Day on the LitWorld website and think about how you can participate in this great event.

If you have some chatty teenagers in your life, who, like, uhm, don’t quite know how to carry on a conversation, check out this great column by A+ Parenting Advice columnist Leanna Landsmann. She uses some tips from Erik Palmer’s recent book, Well Spoken.

Speaking of Erik: Blogger and teacher Jennifer Fulton read and recommended the book to her department chair, who then purchased a copy for everyone in the department. They used the book as the focus of one of their workshops. Read her review of the book on her blog.

Another review that’s worth a quick read is about Math Exchanges by Kassia Omohundro Wedekind, and appears on the blog Enjoy and Embrace Learning.

Franki Sibberson reviews Peter Johnston’s new book Opening Minds on her blog, A Year of Reading. “With Opening Minds, Johnston adds a new layer to what we already learned from him about the importance of the language we use with children.  This new layer has given me a great deal to think about and it will definitely make me a better teacher,” Franki writes.

Add comment February 7th, 2012

Reading Recovery

It’s hard to believe that our “spring” conference season has begun! First up, Stenhouse tracked to Columbus, Ohio, for the 2012 National Reading Recovery conference. Peter Johnston was one of several authors signing books at the booth. His new book, Opening Minds, is now available in a package with his previous book, Choice Words. Visit the Stenhouse website to buy both and save!

Add comment February 6th, 2012

Developing a love of reading in our students

We continue our series with Teri Lesesne this month with ideas about how to inspire students to become lovers of books and reading. Teri says that teachers, librarians, and parents, need to start by showing kids that they themselves love to read. We are still offering a special package price on Teri’s two books, Naked Reading and Making the Match. Come back again in March for more tips from Teri!

The pink hearts and red candy boxes are everywhere in stores.  Flowers, candy, stuffed animals: they all serve as concrete representations of love.  I wonder, what symbols would we use for our love of books?  How could we surround our students with reminders of the importance of books and reading in their lives?

The most powerful image we can provide our students is ourselves as a model of reading.  How often do students see you engaged in a text?  Do they see you reading books or listening to an audiobook or reading a book on your e-reader?  I would often be sitting at my desk with a book open as students came into class.  I would purposefully select books whose titles might engage even reluctant readers:  WHEN DAD KILLED MOM, THE EARTH MY BUTT AND OTHER BIG ROUND THINGS, WHY WE BROKE UP, UNDER A METH MOON.  If I were listening to an audiobook, I would ensure it was an intense passage such as when the main characters of Kenneth Oppel’s THIS DARK ENDEAVOR are defending themselves against the barbed teeth of the coelacanth fish or one of the battle scenes from THE ASK AND THE ANSWER by Patrick Ness or perhaps the chapter from Jack Gantos’  DEAD END IN NORVELT when young Jack believes his neighbor is boiling the skin from her hands (trust me, this scene is actually hysterically funny).  If I am reading electronically, I always make certain that a copy of the actual book is displayed so students can see what I am reading.  Two of my colleagues have clear folders on their door with book covers from the books they are reading with their eyes and reading with their ears. John Schu, an elementary librarian in Illinois, surrounds his library with covers of the books he reads (he read 2011 last year).

So, students need to see us reading.  Preferably, the books they “catch” us reading should be books appropriate for their pleasure reading as well.  Students are more likely to come to us for book suggestions if they know we are familiar with contemporary books.  Surrounding them, then, with children’s and YA books, fiction and nonfiction, is also critical.  Walk into Donalyn Miller’s classroom (she is THE BOOK WHISPERER) and you cannot help but know how important books are to Donalyn.  Tub after tub, shelf after shelf, her books number in the thousands.  Is it any surprise that her students read dozens of books for pleasure each school year?  Classroom libraries are another essential way to surround students with concrete reminders about books and reading  (this does not mean that your students never visit the school library, though). Classroom libraries also eliminate the excuse of “I left my book at home or in my locker” as there are always some books they can pick up in its stead.

Finally, we need to talk about our reading, share it with others.  Now that my classroom is often online, I use a blog to let students know what I am reading right now. Other educators do the same.  Explore the blogs of  Kate Messner, educator and author ( or  John Schu, librarian ( or the hundreds of others out there who blog about books and reading.   Get the word out: you are a reader.  You want to share books with others.  You love reading.

4 comments February 1st, 2012

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