Implementing an Independent Reading Choice System: Part 1

"Bear on a Unicycle" by Julius N. Santiago (

"Bear on a Unicycle" by Julius N. Santiago (

Sometimes, Reader’s Workshop makes me feel like a bear on a unicycle.

I’m pedaling and pedaling… trying to keep “balanced literacy” balanced, all the while worrying about reaching all of my kids’ needs.

And just look at the little guy’s giant head!  It’s just how I feel, always thinking and planning, sometimes even dreading how much work needs to be done.

And I know I’m not the only teacher who feels this way. Continue reading


Effective Effort: Key to Girls’ Success in Math

It seems every year, I have at least one girl in my class who says, “I can’t do it.  I’m no good at math.”  These students believe that math comes “naturally” to other people (and not to them) and that there is little they can do to become strong math students.

Nowadays, the words “I’m no good at math,” just get me fired up.  I hear them, and I think, “that’s a student who is going to have a transformative year.”  Because I know that effective effort + time = success, and soon, she will, too.

I’m far from the only one who thinks this way.  Check out this research summarized in the most recent Marshall Memo (9/14/09): Continue reading

Homework, Week 1: Our First Reflections

I am really pleased by how smoothly homework choice went this week. I followed my plan and had students set a simple class goal on Monday: “to have a good homework routine and have fun.” Then, students brainstormed how they could achieve that goal. Students wrote plans like “find a quiet spot,” “start immediately when I get home,” “do my homework at ____ [name of after school program],” and “set a timer.”

Instead of assigning the Thursday Night Reflection for homework, we did our reflecting as a class Friday morning. Before we began, I brought us back to the equation, “effective effort + ____ = _____.”

Continue reading

Making Homework Choice Work: First Steps

Lots of people tell me they think homework choice is a great idea, but they’re wondering how to make it work in their classrooms.

In my classroom, we’re almost finished with our first week of homework choice. From where I stand (make that sit, totally exhausted) there are three keys to implementing the system successfully: Continue reading

Making the First Move: Effective Parent Communication

Before I realized that I wanted (maybe needed?) to be a teacher, I worked in the national office of an AmeriCorps program as a “Special Projects Assistant” to the CEO.  It’s well known that I was, and continue to be, very special.  But what I learned was how to develop relationships.  Over time, I’d watch as the founders and staff would build relationships with donors and convince them — we’re talking individuals here, not even corporations — to give as much as a million dollars a year.  Certainly, people gave because they believed in the power of our organization to change the world.  But they also gave because they trusted the founders and the staff.  They gave because of their relationships, not just their beliefs. Continue reading