Tuesday, August 30, 2011


As I was headed out the door on the last day of school (ah, that seems so long ago), my principal stopped me and asked how I was feeling about the prospect of only teaching reading and writing during the next school year. I was honest and told her that I was excited...

and extremely terrified.

{*Side note* I am not sure about other intermediate teachers out there, but teaching reading and writing in the upper grades has always been intimidating to me. By the time the students get to me, they more or less know the basics. But, it is up to ME to help them perfect what they know and develop their skills in such a way that they will now become “lifelong readers and writers.” No pressure!!!}

My principal laughed and assured me it would be a great year, and then she recommended a book that I should consider reading over the summer: The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller. She had purchased it for the entire staff in hopes that we would read and gobble up every word. She had also purchased several other books which I hadn't yet gotten to. I decided, however, I would make this my summer project and opened it up that very night.

I was finished reading it by the following evening. It. Was. Amazing. No “professional reading” has ever inspired me so much. In the book (if you have already read it you can skip over this part), Miller describes a reading classroom where children spend most of their time *gasp*actually reading. She has filled her classroom with piles and piles of books, ranging in grade levels, so that all of her students may find something that both interests them and is accessible to them. Her students apply the skills she has taught to the books that they are independently reading, rather than forcing the entire group to trudge along through the same text together, regardless of their interest in it or ability to read it. I was awestruck. I couldn't believe that my principal was basically giving me the freedom to give my students...well...more freedom. In other schools I had taught in, you stuck to the basal or anthology and the county curriculum. Period.

So, I spent the rest of my summer seeking out and purchasing as many children's books as I could. Goodwill was a GOLDMINE, as long as I was willing to spend some time sorting through the books carefully to find ones worth buying and in good condition. Used bookstores were also a great place to find good deals. I doubled the size of my classroom library for under $100 easily.

I also read. A lot. I read books about reading, and I read as many children's books as I could (including, for the first time since they were published, the Harry Potter series...I know...how could I wait so long?!?!). You do get some funny looks when you are reading a children's book in public, but it's worth it to be able to recommend books to your students and know what is in your library. Not to mention the sheer pleasure and fun you get from reading a children's novel...it's fast, it's easy, and there is so much to be learned from them that you may have missed the first time around.

As the school year is getting ready to start, my head is absolutely swimming with ideas. I have reorganized my library, labeled my bins, and am working on lessons to get my students started. I want reawaken a love of reading in my students, just as mine was over the summer. The details of how I will do this aren't 100% figured out yet, but I'll get there...

Whoo Are You?

I am a 5th grade teacher who has been teaching in public schools for five years. This, however, is my first year teaching only reading and writing. I have always been fascinated by how many different approaches and schools of thought there are when it comes to teaching children how to be real readers and writers. This blog will share my experiences in the classroom, what's working (and what isn't), as well as information I gather as I strive to strengthen and improve my reading and writing instruction. Why "The Polka Dot Owl," you ask? I love owls, I love polka dots, and it's also the theme I tried to create in my classroom. Happy reading!