Abandon That Book

I have a problem… I feel the need to finish reading every book I start. Anyone else?

Today I am proud to announce that earlier this week I abandoned a book! I was over 70 pages into the 400-page book but I just wasn’t into it. I had actually been excited to read it because it was by an author whose other work I enjoy. And yet this book, nothing. Wasn’t doing it for me. Felt more like a chore than a pleasure.

Here’s the funny thing. I often talk to students about book abandonment. I reassure them that it’s okay to stop reading something if they’re not enjoying it. After all, if we want them to read, why would we want them to struggle through and feel like it’s a chore as I did. I would much rather they choose something else and find pleasure in what they are reading.

So why do I have different standards for myself? Good question! But, I’m learning. And I’m happy to report that I’m now deep into two other books and enjoying both immensely. If I had continued the other, I doubt I would have read much this week…

Talking to Learn

If I were to walk by your classroom, whose voice would I hear? Yours alone? Yours and a handful of students? Or a sea of voices and a buzz of energy? The answer would be different at different times of the day, of course. However, it is essential that our students are talking much of the day: to articulate their thinking, to share opinions, and to ask questions.

Fostering equitable opportunities for all student voices to be heard is vital. We don’t only want to hear from those most eager to talk. We want to hear from everyone. By creating opportunities for students to turn and talk throughout the day, we place value on talking to learn. By encourage and listening to those more reluctant to share, we show that we value all voices in our classroom.

In her latest book, The Heart-Centered Teacher, Regie Routman says, “For optimal relationships and optimal learning, the quality and depth of conversations matter–a lot.” She continues, “Let’s prioritize creating a classroom environment that puts conversation at the heart and center of teaching and learning.”

A Gift of Literacy

This season, consider giving the gift of literacy. A book to a loved one–of course! But, if you’re able, also consider a donation to one of these literacy organizations who work to empower those in our communities.

Centre for Family Literacy

Edmonton Public Library – Ready. Set. READ!

Young Alberta Book Society

Project Adult Literacy Society

Not from Alberta? Check out United for Literacy or search for literacy organizations in your community.

“A book is a gift you can open again and again.” Garrison Keillor

Learning from Dickens

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens was first published in 1843: a classic Christmas story, read and reread, told and retold. The Citadel Theatre puts on this production every year for good reason.

With students, I use Adam McKeown’s version retold for young readers: fantastic for teaching both transformation stories and character development. Dickens’ 180-year-old work of art also includes a literary device that has found its way into the new grade 5 language arts curriculum in Alberta: a flash forward. Dickens’ use of a flash forward is an engaging, effective example to share with students. Ebenezer Scrooge visits the future with The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come where he is shown what lies ahead if he doesn’t make changes to his life. This flash forward is instrumental to the story, leading to Scrooge’s ultimate transformation.

Read and enjoy, yes! But also consider the craft of the writer…

Different Worlds

November 9th was the 22nd anniversary of my dad’s death. On that day, my closest childhood friend sent me a text including this picture of an apple. Her words, “I’m thinking of you and your dad today.” I was immediately brought to happy tears.

Here’s the connection. My father–my incredible father–carved a picture in my nightly, bedtime apple. Imagine a miniature pumpkin carving. It now seems unbelievable but he did this for many years. He would typically carve out the pieces and then put them back so we would have to remove the tiny pieces to discover the picture. I loved this ritual. And yet, as a child, I did not fully appreciate the time and care he put into this routine.

In addition to my childhood friend who experienced the apple carvings during our many sleepovers, my cousin recently shared a similar story with my mom. As a child, he was once staying with us and feeling sad and lonesome, apart from his parents. My dad carved a picture in an apple to lift his spirits. I didn’t remember this at all. I also didn’t realize that my cousin has since done this for his own children with my dad in mind.

My dad’s intention: to bring us joy. And yet, decades later this ritual still means so much. A legacy indeed.

I can’t help but think about this experience as compared to some of our students’ experiences. For some, the simple presence of a father, or an apple, is a blessing in and of itself. Sometimes, the complex, heart-breaking situations force learning to be secondary at best. We have students in our classrooms who crave attention from a caring adult–any attention. We can’t carve them bedtime apples but our words, our acceptance, and those hugs may mean more than we might ever know…

Stir it up!

We have season’s tickets to Broadway Across Canada. On Friday, we saw Hadestown. Before the show, I ran into someone I went to high school with. We started talking about previous shows and we shared similar opinions about most. However, we discovered one performance that she (and her friends) did not enjoy while we loved it.

This conversation reminded me of how important it is to read a variety of books to our students. Not everyone has the same tastes. By reading across the genres, by ensuring we choose books with diverse main characters, by considering the topics (even within fiction), we will more likely engage every student.

Yes, read your favourites… but be sure to try something new in between!


In a review of my current project on morphology, one of the reviewers wrote, “Love this invitation to word-nerdery!” And at the end of a session I recently gave, a participant said, “Thanks for awakening my secret love of etymology.”

I couldn’t help but smile. If you know me, you know I love words. Always have, I think. It seems others do too!

These recent comments remind me how much we can inspire our students. We know our love of books can be contagious. I’ve also noticed that when I share my love of writing, it seems to give students permission to admit or discover a love of this craft. If we find the origin, meaning, and the sound of words fascinating… perhaps our students will too.

Consider your passions. Do you share them with your class? What interest or love might you awaken in your students?

The Best We Know How

Last week we watched a recent documentary–Mr. Dressup: The Magic of Make Believe.

Mr. Dressup. 10:30 a.m. every weekday of my childhood. Perhaps my favourite time of day.

Watching the documentary, I realized that I was not alone. Mr. Dressup had a significant impact on Canadians decade after decade. He was kind, gentle, creative–a kid at heart. There was a predictability to the show in all the best ways. During my viewing years, Casey and Finnegan were part of that predictability. Who doesn’t love a good sidekick afterall?

I loved to watch Mr. Dressup draw. To make crafts. To don a hat or a cape and become someone new. And even though he was ‘inside my tv’ somehow I felt that he cared about me. He cared about people. He cared about the world.

Last week during one of my PD sessions, a teacher asked about kids these days. Are they different than when I started teaching? Absolutely. How could they not be? They haven’t grown up on Mr. Dressup. All kidding aside, the students in our classrooms today are different. They are digital natives: they have never known a world without computers or the internet. Their childhoods are inherently different than the generations before them. I wonder how they would react to the slowness and simplicity of a show like Mr. Dressup.

Yes, our students are different. But if Mr. Dressup taught me anything, it’s that we love them all the same. We meet them where they’re at, without judgement. We do for them the best we know how.

Mr. Dressup, I leave the last words to you: “Keep your crayons sharp, your sticky tape untangled, and always put the top back on your markers.”

My Hopes for You

Over the last few weeks I have presented to many educators in all corners of Alberta and also in B.C. I am always inspired by the enthusiasm of teachers at all stages of their careers. At the end of a session in Kamloops on Friday, I was given the book I Hope by Monique Gray Smith. At the end of this book, the author asks the reader, What are your hopes?

This question inspired me to freewrite with you in mind. I have shared a few of my thoughts below. (Why not read this beautiful book and engage in a freewrite with your students too?)

I hope educators see how valued they are even when appreciation from students or parents isn’t always articulated. I hope educators realize the impact they have on their students each and every day: in those moments they know they are being watched and in those moments when it might be less obvious. I hope they feel empowered to give their students the gift of literacy, to understand what works and what doesn’t, to be willing to adjust their practice, and ask for help when they are swamped. I hope educators dig deep to find patience when things are tough, when funding is short, and when class sizes are larger than practical. I also hope they can give themselves grace when they can’t do it all. I hope they see how amazing they are as they work day in and day out to meet the needs of their students, needs which go far beyond academics. Ultimately, I hope educators find time to regularly invest in themselves and their families: to find balance and rejuvenate when needed. I hope.

“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” Henry Brooks Adams

Embrace the Season!

I know a lot of teachers… a few love Halloween but many others would prefer to skip right over this holiday. I get it. I remember the anticipation, the buzz, and the sugar highs that come along with the costumes and candy.

It might be tempting to blissfully ignore the season as Halloween day approaches. On the other hand, we could embrace this holiday and use it to motivate our students to read and write!

Pull those Halloween books from the shelves and capitalize on them as mentor texts for your writing lessons. Focus on the craft of the writer. Often, these books are fantastic examples of effective word choice, onomatopoeia, dialogue, setting, sensory language, and description…

A few favourites: Creepy Crayon! by Aaron Reynolds, The Little Ghost Who Was a Quilt by Riel Nason, A Super Scary Narwhalloween by Ben Clanton, Snowmen at Halloween by Caralyn M. Buehner, The Skull by Jon Klassen, and especially for the older students She Made a Monster: How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein by Lynn Fulton.

For added engagement, consider a related art lesson!

Go big or gourd home…