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I am in the struggle zone, and I’d love your help. Next semester, I am teaching a co-taught college course with a history professor. Students will be examining several social movements and forms of collective action. The history professor is in charge of the historical background and currency of each social movement, and I am in charge of the stories within the movement. Students will then go on to explore a different social movement of their choosing and read a YA text that relates to the movement. I am VERY excited. 

For three weeks, we will be considering the #metoo movement. For whatever reason, I seem to read more books related to issues of race, immigration, sexuality, etc. than books about sexual assault. I’ve created a list of the books I am considering, and admittedly, I’ve only read half of them. Now that I know it is a weak spot, I am going to fix it. However, I’d love your help in narrowing this list to the books that you recommend that I read first. 


These are the books that I’ve read and plan to include because they offer a lot of opportunities for discussion:

  1. McCullough, J. (2018). Blood water paint. New York, NY: Dutton.
  2. Reed, A. (2017). The nowhere girls. New York, NY: Simon Pulse.

(Also, excerpts from Kelly Jensen’s Here We Are.)


I need to decide on three more titles. Listed below are the books that I want to read in the next three weeks to see if they will work well within a discussion of the social movement. I am looking for books that are very well-written and that will give much fodder for discussion:

  1. Anderson, L. H. (2019). Shout. New York, NY: Penguin.
  2. Blake, A. H. (2018). Girl made of stars. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
  3. Hartzler, A. (2015). What we saw. New York, NY: HarperTeen
  4. Kiely, B. (2018). Tradition. New York, NY: Margaret K. McElderry.
  5. Mathieu, J. (2017). Moxie. New York, NY: Roaring Brook.
  6. Russo, M. (2016). If I was your girl. New York, NY: Flatiron.

I have all of these books on my nightstand, so access isn’t an issue. I plan to read them all within the next couple of months, but I’d love your advice of which I should read first! If I am missing a great book, please let me know. I’d like it to be a book published within the last 3-4 years because students tend to have read books older than that range.

Feel free to message me if commenting isn’t your jam. 😉 Thank you in advance!


When I began planning my research unit for my Advanced Reading classes, I took to asking my students what they would be interested in learning more about, and overwhelmingly they asked to learn about the Civil Rights movement and other aspects of Black American history; however, when we began planning, my students took note that there are many other fights for equal rights in American History, and they asked if we could focus on all of them. That is when this idea unfolded.

I teach three classes of Advanced Reading equaling 47 students. I wanted to make sure students were given choice in their topics and also were choosing topics based on their interests and not who is in their group, so I made different topics/time periods they could choose from and asked them to rate their interests. I then grouped them based on this and the students began to work.

The students began by researching their topic/time period independently and brainstorming a list of everything important that they could find that happened during that time period. Then, as a group they decided which ten or more events they were going to expand on and include in our timeline.

Once they had their events, they collaboratively researched the events creating a paragraph about each (with a link to sources) and an image (with a caption and source) to add to the timeline.

They then each added to our timeline creating what I believe is a resource that doesn’t exist anywhere else on the internet. The timeline begins with 1688 Quaker Petition Against Slavery and ends with the 2019 rejection of Trump’s Border Wall touching on events and people who have changed the course of our history.

Please view it on Sutori, and I hope you find a way to utilize and share it.
(Embedding it puts the whole timeline and it is VERY long.)

Also, please note: If you see anything that I missed (and my colleagues who helped vet the timeline missed) that is incorrect or not written in the most progressive way, please feel free to reach out to me at with any comments, questions, or concerns.


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The Literacy Teachers Vlog is hosted by Leigh Hall, Professor at the University of Wyoming, and I was so honored that she asked me to join her to discuss helping struggling readers succeed.

Don’t miss out on Ricki’s discussion about Lexiles either!

Thank you again Leigh for having me part of your amazing channel promoting literacy to educators!

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Jennifer A. Nielsen visited my school on December 4th, 2018, and today her newest book comes out (Deceiver’s Heart, Traitor’s Game #2!!!!), so I thought today would be the best day to share about the amazing experience she brought to my school and the superb person she is!

Jennifer was kind enough to have a very packed day with us! She did an assembly for each grade level where she shared that the secret to being a writer is asking questions:

  • Do you have stories? Do you have dreams? If you have dreams, your brain is creating a story. Are you curious? You can be a writer.
  • Writers do these things: Collect stupid facts but don’t collect stupid. Ask Questions. Gain knowledge. They write. They work to get better. They keep trying.
  • There are two types of people: One who says they are good enough. You’ll be passed by people who won’t quit until it’s great.

She also gave us a sneak peek of the Resistance book trailer that went live the next week!

Every group of students (at over 375 each) were captivated by her stories, her humor, and her truth.


During each grade level’s lunch period, she also was kind enough to eat lunch with students who had read two or more of her books. During this time, they could get their books signed and ask exclusive questions.

This lunchtime experience was so inspiring to these students! They still talk about what she shared and (as you’ll see in the last photo below) they helped write a quite hilarious story with her that was cracking everyone up:

  • Story in her head is like an itch that she can’t reach. She is happiest when she is writing because she is reaching the itch.
  • Story is everywhere. Everyone carries story with them. Just ask questions and tell the story.
  • She starts a story with the character in action. Helps the reader and writer get into the character’s head and puts the character into immediate trouble.
  • When she was younger, she didn’t know writing was a choice for something you could do.



Then Jennifer even stayed with us for the evening for another quick presentation, book signing, and cross-curricular events that tied her book into all the subjects.


All in all, the visit was life-changing for our HCMS students.

After the visit, I had my students write letters sharing how the event affected them:

  • Thank you so much! You have made a great impact on my life. I have never liked writing but your story about when you were in 6th grade made me realize that I can do what I put my mind to do. -Olivia M, 6th grade
  • I love reading your books because when I read your books it is so good that I read for hours without stopping. When I found out you were coming I got excited because I wanted to find out more about the author who wrote my favorite books. You taught me never to give up and to keep going for my dream no matter how long it takes. Your books have inspired me to create my own book and to be a writer in the future. -Jacob K, 6th grade
  • The things you said during your visit made me realize I’ll never get better if I don’t try. -Georgia B, 6th grade
  • I loved your assembly. Your stories were hilarious and you inspired me to write down my ideas. -Emily B, 7th grade
  • Thank you so much for visiting us. It was amazing and super fun. Your presentations were incredible and I loved the stories you told. They were sad but so interesting. Your tips for writing were so helpful and I plan on taking them to heart whenever I write. Your encouragement was inspiring. “All you need is 20 seconds of insane courage and I promise you something great will come of it. (Benjamin Mee)” -Duda V, 7th grade
  • Your books are amazing, the plot twists were breath-taking, and your books are meaningful and are powerful. -Molly N, 7th grade
  • I’m a huge fan of your books and it was a dream come true to meet you! I enjoyed making a story with you during my lunch time, and I will always remember your visit. -Mariana S, 8th grade
  • If you were here to inspire, you hit it on the dot. -Julia R, 8th grade
  • Thank you for not quitting and showing us that just because you fail once, or twice, or even hundreds of times, we should keep on trying. -Lorenza M, 8th grade
  • Everything that you said just inspired me to do something that would forever make the world better. -Jordan K, 7th grade
  • Thank you for all the words of wisdom and encouragement to write, and for that I’ll always be grateful. -Monika A, 7th grade
  • You are such a beautiful soul, and I am in denial that I had the chance to meet someone like you. -Amy C, 7th grade
  • You were right – stories are everywhere!.. You are funny and kind, and I love how you add little bits of yourself into your books. -Maelynn A, 7th grade

And I’ll end with this beautiful work. My friend, who teaches 8th grade ELA, had her students do a 6 word reflection with a visual to summarize either how they felt or what they learned:

“Good writing takes time and passion.” -Alexa F.

“Don’t let your ideas go away.” -Charlie B.

“Don’t think of ideas, execute them.” -Grace G.

“Failure is the pillar of success.” -Ramia A.

“All failures lead to a success.” -Paola A.

“Catch an ideas, don’t let go.” -Lauren T.

“To write, you mustn’t fear ideas.” -Ishika J.

“The first draft isn’t always perfect.” -Holly C.

Thank you so much, Jennifer, for coming to HCMS and inspiring my students in ways that are life-changing!


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I’ve always loved teacher action research. When I was teaching high school, I applied for a grant to get a laptop in my classroom to integrate technology into my YAL class. I had so much fun exploring the ways this laptop changed my instruction and the learning environment, and I was lucky to have an article published in The ALAN Review. I became more interested in research and engaged with my former college advisor to conduct another study a couple of years later. This kind of research is wildly exciting for me. (I am a dork! I admit it!)

This semester, I am teaching a graduate class called Investigating Classroom Literacies. The students in the class range from preservice teachers to inservice teachers. They are a phenomenal group of students, and I have loved working with them. We are reading two books. One is a textbook that introduces traditional qualitative research, and another is a teacher action research book.

It’s been fun to introduce traditional qualitative research designs to the students, and we’ve had fun playing with their research topics and how they fit into different research designs. That said, we are aiming to be more practical. The idea is that they will see research as more accessible, so we’ve looked carefully at teacher action research and how it differs in its ease of implementation.

Each student has picked a different topic to explore in their classrooms. Generally (so I don’t give away their specific ideas), they are looking at: using tools to help students with anxiety, examining differences in gender perceptions of leadership, mindfulness practices in ELA, flexible vs. teacher-selected grouping, college student responses to identity-based activities, and teacher preparation for health-related issues. Their topics are much more specific than these, but I am genuinely excited by the range in their interests within English Education.

The students have workshopped their research questions with the entire group, and they are currently writing their literature reviews. I am very much looking forward to talking about data collection and analysis next. Yahoo! I have the best job in the universe!

Do you do teacher action research formally or informally in your classroom? What is your favorite part about it?



I’ve seen school lotteries on television. Often, videos show large crowds in front of a bingo-like machine. The person behind a counter pulls names, and this determines whether the students are admitted into the schools. As a teacher, I watched these lotteries with amazement. Children’s futures were determined by these random drawings. When I moved to a city, I didn’t consider that this kind of a lottery had the potential to become my reality. I need to be fair in this statement. The schools in my district are very different from each other (they are branded in different ways and have different educational priorities), but they are all good schools.

Some of the lotteries that I watched on television were for schools with drastically different funding. The children in the crowd talked in interviews about the differences in educational outcomes and college admittances between their home schools and these schools with the lotteries. The lottery schools were fully funded, beautiful buildings with great technology. The home schools reported not having funding for paper. I’ve worked in a low-funded school. I know that the students and teachers in low-funded schools are incredible. But money matters (to a small degree), and I would be sitting in the crowd right alongside these parents.

When we bought a house, we looked at the elementary schools. We decided to hold off on the middle and high schools. I was seeking an elementary school that reflected my educational philosophies. This meant that I actually didn’t go with the schools that were ranked highest on the “School Digger”-like websites. Instead, I read about the schools and learned more about how they operated. Most of the schools that are highest “ranked” in our city are core knowledge schools. I am not a big believer in this paradigm (thank goodness, because the cost of the houses exceeded our means). There were many schools we were interested in that were school-choice only. In other words, it didn’t matter where I lived in town. These schools were lottery-based. The bilingual immersion school I was eyeing had a 7-12% acceptance rate each year. So I tried to manage my expectations. There were several schools that fit my priorities as a parent, and we looked for houses in these areas. I recognize that this is a huge privilege to be able to select houses based on schools. Surprisingly, I was looking at many schools that may have been low on others’ priority list. As an educator, I have strong opinions about how an elementary school should operate. For me, the school branding was actually more important to me than the right house. Also, the cost of houses pushed us out of certain elementary school zones, and I was okay with that.

We bought a house in the school zone of a small, well-regarded elementary school. It is not the name that comes up often in conversations (it isn’t a core knowledge school, for example). Also, it is much smaller than the others. The kindergarten classrooms feature two full-day classes and one half-day class. This is much smaller to other schools which may have seven or more kindergarten classrooms. I liked it because I felt like the small size would help benefit my kids and help me know the teachers better. The only drawback was that the diversity of the school was lower than I wanted (a huge issue in our city). But we spend significant time with our community, and our kids have diverse friend groups. We also decided we would try to choice into the bilingual immersion schools.

A year before I enrolled my son into kindergarten, I learned that our school had a lottery for kindergarten. To be fair, the children are all guaranteed a first grade spot. Driving him to a different kindergarten school would not be a huge deal. So we filled out choice applications in case he didn’t get into the school by the lottery. We talked with other neighbors and lamented that they wouldn’t be together if some of them didn’t get into the school by lottery. In the end, our school had low enrollment, so every neighborhood kid got into the school. In fact, I don’t believe any of the schools in town needed to host a lottery this year. The “school choice” system didn’t offer much choice. Many parents I know put five schools down and didn’t get into any of the schools that they desired. It seems that moving into the neighborhood of the school is the only almost-guarantee that you might get into the school (pending lottery).

All of this background is to share the reality that parents can try to do everything possible, but they still cannot choose a school for their children. In our case, again, it wasn’t a big deal if he didn’t get into the school we preferred. There were other good options. This isn’t the case for all children, though. Most notably, our city is a wealthier city. Any school is going to be a fine choice. Yet, for other students in other districts, these lotteries are incredibly significant and entail vastly different class sizes and funding levels. I wonder how we can live in a country that audibly promotes education but doesn’t allow parents to choose what kind of education they want for their children. I’d love to eliminate the need for school lotteries, but I recognize that I might just be dreaming.


A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks
Author: Alice Faye Duncan
Illustrator: Xia Gordon
Published January 1st, 2019 by Sterling Children’s Books

Summary: “The combination of biography and Brooks’ own poems makes for a strong, useful, and beautiful text . . . A solid introduction to a brilliant writer”—Kirkus.

Acclaimed writer Alice Faye Duncan tells the story of poet Gwendolyn Brooks, the first Black author to win the Pulitzer Prize.

SING a song for Gwendolyn Brooks.
Sing it loud—a Chicago blues.

With a voice both wise and witty, Gwendolyn Brooks crafted poems that captured the urban Black experience and the role of women in society. She grew up on the South Side of Chicago, reading and writing constantly from a young age, her talent lovingly nurtured by her parents. Brooks ultimately published 20 books of poetry, two autobiographies, and one novel. Alice Faye Duncan has created her own song to celebrate Gwendolyn’s life and work, illuminating the tireless struggle of revision and the sweet reward of success.

A Message from Alice Faye Duncan: 

“Dear Teachers and Librarians:

Welcome to my FIRST virtual book signing. In this media presentation you will see AND hear me read my new book A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks. It is the poet’s biography told in 9 short poems. Gwendolyn Brooks and her pursuit of words is lesson in audacity, tenacity and victory.  Her life is a journey that young readers can use to navigate this trying world.”

About Alice Faye Duncan: Alice Faye Duncan writes books for young readers and adults. HONEY BABY SUGAR CHILD is a mother’s love song to her baby. The lyrical text sings and swings just like music. One must read it aloud with LOVE, JOY and SOUL!

MEMPHIS, MARTIN AND THE MOUNTAINTOP (The 1968 Sanitation Strike) is a lyrical combination of poetry and prose that explores Dr. King’s assassination and his last stand for economic justice in the city of Memphis. The illustrator is Caldecott Honor recipient, Gregory Christie.

12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS IN TENNESSEE is a child’s travel guide across the Volunteer State (GO VOLS!). Two cousins in ugly holiday sweaters visit important landmarks throughout the state, while traveling in a mini-van called the “Reindeer Express.” The illustrator is Mary Uhles.

A SONG FOR GWENDOLYN BROOKS will debut in January 2019. This is the first picture book biography to explore the life and times of Chicago poet–Gwendolyn Brooks. In 1950, Miss Brooks was the first African American writer to receive a Pulitzer Prize.

Have you heard the name, “Pinkney?” Alice’s book–JUST LIKE A MAMA will make its debut on Mother’s Day (2019). The illustrator is Charnelle Pinkney Barlow. Her grand father is Caldecott illustrator, Jerry Pinkney. Charnelle is a master artist too. Get ready to be charmed with impressive images and a lyrical text.

Thank you so much to Alice Faye Duncan for sharing this amazing reading with us! The Virtual Book Signing, more about Alice and her books, and FREE LESSON PLANS for her books can all be found on her website:

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