#NCTE14 J.44 A Reader’s Workshop Starter Kit to Jumpstart the Process

Erika, Amy, Shana, and I are presenting at the NCTE conference today at 2:45pm! Penny Kittle is our Chair, so please join us to discuss the landscape of workshop. We are session J.44.

Think back to your first day of teaching on your first year of teaching. What were you feeling? Happy, nervous, excited, afraid?IMG_1776 Fear. Fear was the first thing I experienced when I stood in my classroom on the first day of school. That and enthusiasm, excitement, eagerness, and hope, but ultimately, I was afraid, knee shaking, stomach churning nervous as I stood in front of my new class. Fear comes with the unknown, which is why my nerves of being a new teacher were compounded by my entry into the workshop model. The concept of the workshop model is simple, yet it’s a structure that so few of us grew up with. In turn, as I transitioned my classroom, I found my nerves could be categorized into the fear of breaking tradition, the fear of parents, the fear of students not reading, and the fear of proving rigor. I was not alone though. Interns and teachers who were new to workshop model faced many of the same fears. In turn, I created a reader’s workshop starter kit to provide my colleagues with concrete documents that helped them establish the workshop model in their classroom. The starter kit includes the following documents:

  • Elements of a Reading Workshop by Penny Kittle
  • Reading Letter for parents
  • Calculating Reading Rates & Reading Rates Log Sheet
  • Weekly Reading Recording Sheet
  • Excel Sheet Weekly Reading Recording Sheet
  • Book Conference Log
  • Questions to Ask While Conferencing
  • Book Talk Outline
  • Resources for Helping Students to Find New Books

Whether you are a new teacher or simply new to the reader’s workshop, I hope this starter kit will make your journey a bit easier. Enjoy every step and savor even the smallest successes. If you have any questions or comments about starter kit, please feel free to contact me at Jackie.catcher@gmail.com.

Click Here to Download the Reader’s Workshop Starter Kit

Landscape of Workshop: We have arrived!

Nine years in. I know what certain murmuring really means. We all do. The murmuring of students when they are conferring about their writing. The kind that surfaces when boredom is creeping into our classrooms. The murmuring of confusion and frustration. The one that starts to get louder and louder as passion starts taking shape. Today, is that kind of murmuring day.

Christian: Why? No, really. Why? Why is it that all we do is read and write in here allllll day, Ms. Bogdany? Ev-er-y-day. (Yes, with that level of emphasis.)

Swallowing my smirk, I calmly start explaining the reasons, rationales, and importance again to Christian. Yes, we’ve had this conversation many–a-time. And clearly others’ patience with this subject has become depleted.

Norris: Man, why are you even asking that? We’re in English! It’s what we do!

Christian: No, but I mean seriously. It’s all we do. In my previous high school we used to watch movies and relax. This is crazy.

Norris: That’s why you’re not there anymore! You chose to be educated here. We’re at a transfer school. Here it’s more focused and we’re learning.

Deja: Oh, listen to you, Norris. Telling Christian all about what’s right…you always think you’re better than everyone!  We breathe the same air you breathe!

Hakeem: Norris, you haven’t walked in my shoes! You don’t know! Last period, you were the one that lied and got caught! Now you’re acting like Christian’s father.

Here, in my Writer's Notebook, I capture voices speaking their truth.

Here, in my Writer’s Notebook, I capture voices speaking their truth.

Here is where I sit back and start listening; very intently. I am becoming quieter and quieter as the room gets more and more animated. (I was hoping to become invisible, truth be told.) Because, this is what happens when students are invested. They challenge each other. They hold each other accountable. They start discussing their level of comfort or lack there of.   They express their inner feelings. They question motives. And yes, sometimes their word choices can be a bit crass, but isn’t that authenticity at its best?

They give me exactly what I need as their educator.

I need to understand who they are, what fuels their fire, how they feel about injustice. How safe are they feeling in our learning community? Well, I can’t always answer all of the questions swirling around in my mind, but today I was able to answer this one confidently: students are feeling wildly comfortable in our shared space. Because when students are brave enough to confront their peers (those that are their roughest critics) I know we’ve arrived. We’ve arrived as an evolving community of learners; as a team not willing to silence our voices when they need to be heard; and we are most definitely letting our guards down as we are emerging ourselves even more deeply in the work of the Reading Writing Workshop (RWW).

I also know that while Christian is literally shifting around in his seat, stretching all of his 5 feet 9 inches; he is moving – physically and as a writer. He doesn’t necessarily see or appreciate it just yet, but it’s there. I see it. I know. And, just like the murmuring that propelled this dialogue in room 382, Christian is pushing boundaries and uncomfortable. Yet, I believe Christian is more resilient than he even recognizes. And that resiliency pushes me to continually find ways to engage Christian in this work. Even, if it means having the same conversation again – because it will resurface.

As I head down to the nation’s capitol to be reunited with my PLN – my nationwide pedagogical lifeline – I take this experience with me. Regardless of how much traffic I may encounter on the trip from Brooklyn, this tipping point (as Malcolm Gladwell would argue) is buckled tightly in my back seat and promising to remind me what I am bringing with me to #NCTE14 – the moments that the RWW affords us when we listen to our learners, their needs, and previously dormant desires.

I cannot wait to further this conversation on Saturday at J.44 starting at 2:45pm. I hope you join us for an hour full of deep thinking, classroom anecdotals, and the energy that attendees from across the country bring to the conversation. See you there!

#NCTE14 J.44 Nonnegotiables Across the Landscape of Workshop

Jackie, Erika, Amy and I are excited to present at NCTE in Washington, D.C. on Saturday at 2:45 pm. Penny Kittle is our Chair. We are session J.44. Join us!

“I am the sum of my mentors,” writes Meenoo Rami in Thrive.  As a student at Miami University in 2005, I had no idea how fortunate I was to have Tom Romano as one of my mentors.  As a leader in educational writing, a teacher with his thumb on the pulse of research, and the giant who first introduced me to NCTE, Romano has always been my single biggest mentor.

As I thought for months about what I wanted to share with teachers regarding the readers-writers workshop at NCTE, I was reminded of an assignment I’d done in Romano’s class–to find the “red thread” of my teaching…my nonnegotiables regarding our profession.  I dug for it in the depths of my hard drive.

Re-reading it, I laughed as I always do at my older writing, but then I smiled.  Many of my nonnegotiables remain unchanged: sustained silent reading.  Craft informed by research.  Authenticity.  Engagement is central.  Model, model, model.

Tom Romano obviously did a damn good job as a mentor.

IMG_5031Those simple principles–plus my genuine passion for reading, and writing, and the joy I believe they can bring everyone–inform my practice day in and day out.  They are supported by the research of Penny Kittle, Katie Wood Ray, Tom Newkirk, Kelly Gallagher, Donalyn Miller, Linda Rief, and more.  I am the sum of those mentors, and in this season of giving thanks, I’m so grateful that I am.  My students have found incredible success because I stand on the shoulders of those giants, and I can’t wait to share their stories at our session in Washington, D.C.

#NCTE14 J.44 The Landscape of Workshop in AP English

Shana, Jackie, Erika, and I will be presenting at NCTE in Washington, D.C. on Saturday at 2:45 pm. Penny Kittle is our Chair. We are session J.44. Please, come and join the conversation.

Readers and Writers Workshop was a mystery to me for a while, literally. I didn’t even know about it. I’m still puzzled that I made it through my teacher education program without learning about it.

My first three years of teaching, I pretty much taught the same way I was taught in high school. I chose the books we read. I chose the topics students wrote about. I was queen of my classroom, and I decreed that my preAP freshmen would read Dickens. They hated it. No, that’s not right. They hated trying to read it. So they didn’t. Gratefully, at least a few of my first-year students don’t hold it against me. We got together this summer for dinner, and Cara and Marcus relieved my growing guilt.

When I finally came to understand how Workshop could revamp my instruction, that guilt grew. I wasted so much time. I could have done so much more to help my students become readers and writers.

I am different now.

My goal as an educator is to foster the literacy skills in my students that will provide them with the confidence and the capability to contribute to our community and our world.

A week ago I sat in a department meeting and listened as the department manager explained the direction our district is moving in terms of English instruction:  Readers and Writers Workshop. Skills-based instruction. Exactly the instruction I believe in. Exactly the instruction I try to provide my students every day.

I sat there stumped when one veteran teacher began to fidget. His face turned red. His hands twitched on the desk. Finally, he spoke up when the conversation turned to assessments and the need for skills-based exams to match skills-based teaching, not exams based on the content in books read (or not read) in class.

“What’s the point then? We might as well not even call it an English class then,” he said, and several other heads nodded.


Because you are being asked to foster a love of reading in your students, allow them choice in reading materials, encourage them to write about their reading, model the life of a reader, and do something similar in the way of writing instruction, you think that is not an English class?

I remembered a conversation  I had with someone struggling with letting go of only reading classic novels with their students. I asked what her number one question was. She said, “Equity. Shouldn’t our students be reading the same timeless texts as so many students do in wealthier areas?”

Shouldn’t the equity be in the literacy skills our students possess more than the books they have read?

With the College Board and school districts and schools promoting more and more students take advantage of Open Enrollment in Advanced Placement classes, in my experience, many of those students do not have the prerequisite skills to be successful in an advanced English class. Many of the students I have this year have not passed their state-mandated English I and English II test, and now they are expecting to be successful in a college-level course. I am all for differentiation, but it gets difficult when students are on so many levels, struggling to the exceptionally talented gifted student.

my classroom

Readers and Writers Workshop has helped solve a lot of my challenge. I teach the reader not the reading. I teach the writer not the writing. And every student is different.

So many students are hurting, and isn’t it part of our job as teachers of teens to help them learn about what it means to be human:  empathetic, kind, compassionate, intelligent, courageous? All the characteristics we learn from the best protagonists in the best literature. That is what I tell my students:  We read literature to learn what it means to be human in a world that would like us to forget. Books in hand make us slow down, quiet our minds, embrace moments of stillness — something we so badly need in this social-media, speed-of-light world.

Read this entry in a student’s notebook. She gave me permission to share. It’s raw and frightening.

We Chris notebookwere brainstorming topics for a narrative we’ll write soon. I asked students to think about their lives and write to the question

“What if ______?”

Can you even imagine?

Every day students face challenges, fears, and troubles that no child should have to face. I believe teachers can be healers. We can be healers when we value the student more than our content. When we embrace the individual and focus on her needs, academically and emotionally.

Three of my students cried as they told me of their worries before second period was over on Friday. I am honored that they trust me.

Community matters.

Conferences matter.

Mentor texts and Modeling matter.

Choice matters.

TIME matters.

All students, advanced or otherwise, need teachers who are willing to let them make choices that lead to profound learning, relieving their worry sure helps that happen.

Watch this clip of some of my students sharing what they like about our Readers and Writers Workshop instruction:

And here’s my slide presentation for NCTE. I will only talk about a tad of what I wrote on this post there. I hope that if you are in Washington, D.C. you will come to our session. And if you are not, join the conversation on Twitter beginning on Saturday at 2:45. #NCTE14

Grateful November: If the love’s gone, make a change

Today a friend asked me how I’ve been. “Great,” I said. But then I thought about it:

I’ve been FANTASTIC.

I changed jobs this year. I moved to a school about a 25 minute drive from my other one. Love is not a strong enough word, but really, I love going to work every day.

The students are great, but that’s not it.

The building is new, but that’s not it either.

Another friend, a colleague from my other district, was on my campus on Friday. She roamed the halls and found my classroom. We hugged and talked for an hour.

She is not fantastic.

I listened. I remembered.

Meetings that never seem to accomplish much. Students who “own” the power in the school but don’t put their strengths toward learning. Lack of planning time. Mandated policies. All things that kill the joy of teaching for a perfectionist like me, and my friend. There is not enough time in the day to do it all. I believe most teachers would agree.

Maybe we care too much. I thought that a lot last year. The third in my growing unhappiness in a system growing out of control.

But now? I am at a place where the principal supports his students and his teachers. He manages with insight and thoughtfulness. He’s respected because he takes the time to show respect. He holds meetings when necessary — not out of routine. Is there any better sign of respect for his teachers than to respect their time?

So, today when my friend asked me how I was, it gave me pause. In this season of Thanksgiving, I am grateful. I am grateful to my former district for the opportunities I had to grow as an educator. They are many. I am grateful for the trust of some administrators who believed in my skills and my passions. (I know you know who you are.) I am grateful that I listened to God when He said, “It is time for a change.”

I would have left the profession. I almost left the profession.

But now, my heart swells with love for students who trust me to help them learn. And I feel humbled and grateful for the trust and welcome from new colleagues who believe in my skills set. They’ve made me feel at home.

Grateful November

grateful November

A Mini-lesson on Extended Metaphor

The Good Luck of Right Now is the first book by Matthew Quick that I read. It is a good book. I love the quirkiness of the narrator’s voice. It reminds me a little of the narrator in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time. I don’t know which I like better.

I am not sure this is a book that my students will want to read, although I will share it with them with my high praise. I do know that there are several passages that I can use for mini-lessons. I especially like this one with an extended metaphor. I think students will be able to write their own, and maybe add it into their narratives, once we take a close look at the way Quick uses this one here:


The Good Luck of Right Now by Matthew Quick, p111

(I have to say that everything seems to be unraveling lately. Or maybe it seems as though I am a flower myself, opening up to the world for the first time. I don’t know why this is, and I’m not really in control of it either. Flowers do not think. Okay, it is now May, so I will reach up toward the sun and relax my fist of petals into an open hand. They do not think at all. Flowers just grow, and when it is time, they shoot colors out of their stems and become beautiful. I am no more beautiful than I was when Mom was alive, but I feel as though I am a fist opening, a flower blooming, a match ignited, a beautiful mane of hair loosened from a bun –that so many things previously impossible are now possible. And I have been wondering if that is the reason I did not cry and become upset when Mom died. Do the colorful flower petals cry and mourn when they are no longer contained within a green stem? I wonder if the first thirty-eight years of my life were spent within the stem of me — myself. I have been wondering a lot about a lot of things, Richard Gere, and when I read about your life I get to thinking that you also have similar thoughts, which is why you dropped out of college and did not become a farmer like your grandfather or an insurance salesman like your father. And it’s also why so many people thought you were aloof, when you were only trying to be you. I read that you used to go to the movies by yourself when you were in college and you’d stay at the movie house for hours and hours studying the craft of acting and storytelling and moviemaking. You did all of this alone. This way maybe when you were in the stem–before you exploded into the bloom of internationally famous movie star Richard Gere. Such vivid colors you boast now! But it wasn’t easy for you. I have been learning by researching your life. So much time spent acting on the stage. You lived in a New York City apartment without heat or water, one book reported. And then you made many movies before you became famous –always trying to beat out John Travolta for roles, and being paid so much less than him. But now you are Richard Gere. Richard Gere!)


Do you have other passages that work well to teach extended metaphor?

Two Wes Moores?

Here’s what I love about literature; when there’s not one but two options that propel me through the exploration of a writer’s story.  It gives me options, varied yet similar journeys, and choice.  I love choice.


To the students of Social Justice and Student Voice, You can’t hit a target you can’t see. Continue to dream! -Wes Moore

I also love when I get to meet an author and hear him speak about his story; both in the writing and in his account of the events.  What better way to be introduced to another’s extraordinary life?

And, an extraordinary life it is.

In The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore, upon realizing that Wes was not the only Wes Moore residing (as a youth) on the streets of Baltimore, he felt compelled to connect with the other man sharing extraordinary similarities; the same name, fatherlessness, and navigation through the world the best way they knew how.

And, so the story begins.

By taking a leap of faith and contacting the other Wes Moore (while jailed for a crime that put him behind bars for a lifetime without parole) Wes opens the door for connection, dialogue, and an unbreakable bond.  Human connection at its core.

I introduce students to the significance of the dividing gray line - the shift from Wes Moore to the Other Wes Moore (and vice versa).

In The Other Wes Moore, I introduce students to the significance of the dividing gray line – the shift from Wes Moore to the Other Wes Moore (and vice versa).

That’s all I share with students when introducing them to this piece.  And then the questions swirl: Wait!  What do you mean they have the same name but live such different lives?  Does the other Wes answer Wes’s request to communicate?  Wes visits the other Wes in jail, huh?  What does he mean when he says (compliments of the cover), “The chilling truth is that his story could have been mine.  The tragedy is that my story could have been his.”?  If he’s not in jail, how could it be a tragedy for the other Wes Moore to live Wes’s life?   This is wild!

And now, Discovering Wes Moore (the Young Adult adaptation) provides access to readers who are intrigued by (as the title suggests) discovering Wes Moore, the author.  This piece brings readers through the linear journey of the author’s life, struggles, ah-has, life choices, and incredible realizations.

Both Wes Moores on display in room 382

Both Wes Moores on display in room 382

Here’s what I love about this piece, students do not enter into the potential complexity of following two stories interwoven; they simply get to focus on one story line.  For readers who are interested in autobiographical narratives, this provides them access to a story not to be missed.

Some students enjoy reading both pieces simultaneously by the means of an author study; while others enjoy choosing only one piece to explore.  Students of all reading levels and interests find themselves consumed by these pieces – the craft, reality, and unbelievable story that is oh-so-honest.

The Other Wes Moore and Discovering Wes Moore are continually transient. They don’t stay on our shelves for any extended period of time. As soon as students realize they’re back and available for the taking, they do just that while others’ Next-To-Read lists grow.

I love that both Wes Moores find themselves in the hands of inquisitive learners because, to date, not one student reader has been untouched by their story.

"All this happened, more or less."

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