Favorite Reads of 2017

I’ll be the first to admit, my reading habits of 2017 were nothing compared to 2016.  2016 was my year of Kids Deserve It, Crash Course, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Ken Robinson, graphic novels, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi, Ditch That Textbook, Explore Like a Pirate, Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman, Frederik Backman, The Zen Teacher, Play Like a Pirate, Ron Clark, and so much more. It was a balance of reading for educational purposes, leisure, and both. 2017? Not as much.

In the time of New Year’s Resolutions, I can talk about excuses for this (like a whole lot of grad school), but it’s more about how 2016 led to 2017. 2016 was a huge learning year for me. I was hungry for new information and strategies. I felt the need to be better, to do better. 2016 was “gimme all the knowledge!” I needed to get on everyone else’s level.

2017 was the time to put it into action. I went to the Ron Clark Academy, Get Your Teach On, and Happy Go Teach. 2017 was about doing everything I read about in 2016.  Engagement strategies, hooks, relationships, room transformations, anything and everything. It was about turning goals into realities.

That action takes time and energy. In turn, I read less. That doesn’t mean I didn’t learn or develop professionally, though. My PLN came to rise, and I maybe learned to relax, just a little bit. I also learned about listening to podcasts during my “commute.” It’s all about how you use your time.

With that, my reading wasn’t as intensely a part of me, but 2017 still led me to some amazing books.  Here’s my top 3 reads of the year…


The Mother of Black Hollywoodby Jenifer Lewis

I came upon this after her interview with Sam Sanders on his podcast “It’s Been a Minute” (Shout out to this podcast, too!).  Mid-podcast, I ordered her book. I was laughing and crying at the same time.  This woman commands the room (or car, from my listening experience). I needed to know more and hear more of what she had to offer.  The book doesn’t disappoint.  Jenifer doesn’t sugar coat things.  She tells you about her life, the ups and the downs.  The laughs and the pain. Stardom and bipolar disorder. I couldn’t put this book down. And I couldn’t stop laughing. Jenifer Lewis lives life to the fullest, a lesson to take into the new year, if you’re about that.


Beartownby Frederik Backman

To start, I’m a big fan of Backman’s previous work.  A Man Called Ove rejuvenated my reading habits, and I laughed with other readers at the moments of Ove’s life when, with any other writing style, would have been something to cry about. And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer had be crying my eyes out, but it also gave this sense of ease. My Grandmother… and Britt-Marie continued to solidify my love of Backman, but Beartown was a step away from his normal vibes.  Tackling serious topics within the broad overview of sports and small town life, this book reeled me in and was a two day read over Winter Break.


Get Up or Give Up: How I Almost Gave Up on Teachingby Michael Bonner

If you’re a colleague and you’re tired of me raving about Michael Bonner, I’m sorry, deal with it, I’m still talking about him.  He gained recognition after his students made a video to an educational song, and Mr. Bonner and his class appeared on Ellen.  The book, though!  It is honest and open about the struggles and rewards of teaching.  It’s also a quick read, great for someone like me who needed a boost but was struggling to finish a variety of other books. Once you fall for Mr. Bonner in his book, he continues to share his positive mindset and love for his kids through social media (his Instagram stories will brighten each and every one of your days).  He’s an advocate for his students and kids everywhere.

Now, go forth and read! Or, whatever you need to do to be a better you for yourself, your family, and your students.

Stay Colorful.


Chocolate Day

As a culminating activity to reading Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, we brought the book to life through Chocolate Day!



As with most special days in 2nd Grade Land, we had to take a selfie because #picsoritdidnthappen

My favorite Teach Like a Pirate hook is the costume hook, so of course we had to dress up for the occasion as our best attempts at Mr. Willy Wonka himself.

Golden Tickets in 2W

Our kids started off the day getting their very own golden tickets!

Morning Doodle in 2P

Our morning work always consists of a “Doodle” to start the day showing the value we place on creativity and out-of-the-box thinking. We reread the part in the book where the reader first meets Willy Wonka, and students came up with their best visual interpretation.


I’m attempting some Hope King inspired classroom transformations (as seen in the background of this picture. I’ve been wanting to create scenes by covering the walls to match the occasion. I invested in curtains for the convenience of it, but I found that cheap Dollar Store tablecloths worked even better! My intent was to have purple, green, and orange throughout the wall to mimic the colors associated with Willy Wonka. It’s a work in progress.

Signing the contract

Just like in the book, students had to sign a mysterious contract agreeing to all of the shenanigans of the day!

Procedural Text in 2P

Students then had to draw what they thought an Everlasting Gobstopper would look like. They wrote a procedural text about how to draw one, and then they switched papers and had to follow the steps somebody else wrote. It gave students some good insight into the detail they needed to have in order to write a good procedural text (our next writing genre).

Chocolate taste test

Next up was a chocolate taste test! Students tried out white chocolate, semisweet, dark, bittersweet, unsweetened, and milk chocolate. They described the way each of the types of chocolate looked, smelled, and tasted.


While white chocolate was delicious, some students had mixed reactions to types like bittersweet and dark chocolate.


But they could all agree that unsweetened was disgusting!


Next up we painted with chocolate! Each student got their own cup of chocolate syrup to use to create their own masterpieces!


This pro-tip of individual cups came from my teaching partner who, over the years of her doing Chocolate Day, discovered that you might has well let them lick their fingers as they paint because that’s the most fun way to do it.

Chocolate Day in 2P

The chocolate fountain was next! This inspiration is from the Chocolate Room in the book with the chocolate river and waterfall (where Augustus Gloop’s gluttony gets him in trouble).


In the afternoon, we watched the Gene Wilder version of the movie and had our own Fizzy Lifting Drinks (AKA root beer floats).


And the day wouldn’t be complete without an Oompa Loompa photo booth.


Here’s me doing my best attempt at mimicking the Gene Wilder meme for future use.

Chocolate Day isn’t just a fun day just for the sake of doing something fun. It brought the book to life. For the day, students were a part of the story. They referenced things that happened and created their own funny songs and silly games inspired by the book, without any prompting. They compared and contrasted while watching the movie. They laughed, felt grossed out, experienced things they never had before, expressed themselves creatively, and made memories. This is what being a kid is all about.

Stay Colorful.


STEAM: Gingerbread House

Making one of these gingerbread houses has been on my “December To Do List” for the last two years, and we finally made it.

I emphasize we because, in reality, my kids made it.

Because they are great thinkers.


Why STEAM instead of STEM? In this case, I felt like the arts were prominent in this project. Actually, maybe I should be thinking STEAM more often… [OMG this book!]

I started by showing my kids the above picture from this amazing blog with the prompt “How can we make our own?”

They talked about what materials they could see in the picture (cardboard, plates, and paper, mainly) and then they were pretty excited when I pulled those three things out of a closet.

I split the class into three groups based on their expressed interests

  1. Candy Makers
  2. Roof Shingle Makers
  3. House Makers

A lot of kids wanted to be a house maker, but in the end they decided that maybe 2-4 kids should build because there would be too many people with too many different ideas otherwise.


I ended up choosing three students: one student with good building skills, one that is a great thinker and problem solver, and another that is a good leader. Let me tell you guys, these three kids were rock stars!  They had great mathematical conversations about symmetry and awesome engineering thoughts on stability.

The materials I gave these students were three large cardboard boxes (each about $1.50 from Walmart) and duct tape. My role was just to cut (despite their pleadings to use the box cutter), use hot glue (again, they reaaallly wanted to do that), and occasionally give them some things to reflect on- they did the rest!


On their own, they realized that they needed to cut some of the box so that the roof could sit on the top correctly and that a lot of tape was needed.

Meanwhile, my other students were moving back and forth between “candy maker” and “shingle maker” based on their interests. The shingles are just half paper plates with the middle cut out. When the students asked me how many they should make, I just pointed to the “house makers” and the current gingerbread house and said “However many to fit on that roof. How can you figure that out?” Sure enough, they went and got rulers and measuring tape, brought them over to the cardboard, and they made a relatively good estimate!

I don’t give answers. Students discover them.


My artistically inclined kiddos made candy canes, chocolate bars, donuts (why are kids these days obsessed with donuts?), mints, and all sorts of sweets.


Students all worked together to glue on their goodies and some old, “not the right color for my boards,” border (just flipped back to the blank side!). I used a hot glue gun to stick the paper plates on while a few others cut out colorful circles to place in the shingles.


Honestly, this project did take a long time. It could have been completed a lot faster if I had given specific “how to” instructions, but that wasn’t what this lesson was about. To grow creative problem-solvers we need to give students time to actually think and use the trial-and-error process. They did have a model to reference, and I need to reflect on this and decide if I still want that for next year or if I want to just put the idea out there and see what they come up with. Probably the latter.
Is ours as pretty and perfect as some others out there on Pinterest- not in the same way! I love it, it’s beautiful because my students took ownership of the classroom. This is not something I brought in that they get to use- it is theirs.


And then of course I had to get in on the fun because #picsoritdidnthappen

Stay Colorful

Flexible Seating

It’s time to talk about my favorite educational buzzword (phrase?) of the moment, and that’s flexible seating or #flexseating.

I’m not here to tell you how you should set up your classroom. I’m not here to tell you that desks are evil or that you aren’t doing what’s best for your kids. This post is just to share the benefits that I have seen for my students in a classroom environment that works for both myself and for these kids.

Is flexible seating right for every student? Every teacher? Every administrator? I don’t know, but here’s why and how I do it.


This was my space when I first decided to give flexible seating a shot. Mind you, this was 10 days before the school year ended (and I was going to be moving schools after that). So, any excuse that the school year has already started is invalid.

I was inspired by another teacher in the building. Actually, I am now teaching in that person’s old classroom (it must have been meant to be!). This teacher based her class on the “Starbucks Classroom” and her classroom was actually coffee themed. As a first year teacher, I saw the couches, yoga balls, and bike pedals in her classroom and knew I wanted to create a space like that.


This is what I was able to do at that time. I removed the legs from some tables to get spots where my kids could sit or kneel to work.  I had a bench that was used for whole group instruction and seating at a table. I had soft stools for some comfort and storage, but I still had regular tables with regular (5 year old sized) chairs.

Jump to having a summer off brainstorming all kinds of new ideas and a few months into the next school year…


These were my flexible seating choices. Starting at the top…

  • Storage stools used for seating at my small group instruction U-shaped table. They are popular in stores around Back-To-School College shopping times (and are on clearance a month later!)
  • Gaiam yoga balls: I especially love the little legs on these that keep them in place better
  • I made crate stools using milk crates, foam cushion, fabric, and a staple gun
    • Tip: Lowe’s will cut wood to size for you, and they might only judge you slightly for bringing in a hot pink milk crate
  • Scoop rockers: These are a huge hit! Kids are rock back and forth slightly to get those wiggles out. I would say that, based on their size, they would be best for PreK-2nd grade. They are available at a wide range of costs from different places. I’ve spent $4-$6 a piece finding them at Gordman’s, Walmart, and Aldi’s. They are available on Amazon and other sites, but they tend to be about $10 a piece.
  • Couch: This couch is nothing impressive and has definitely been loved. Someone donated it, so it cost me zero dollars. It is a favorite spot in our class.
  • Cushion: This is literally just a cushion from a butterfly chair that I put underneath a counter for a more private reading area.
  • Stools:  These were around $5 a piece at Gordman’s. Similar to the scoop rockers, I would say these probably max out on the support for middle-elementary level kids. The counter where these stools are is also a great standing workspace.
  • Floor seating: I have bath mats, wooden chair cushions, and Dollar Store gardening knee pads available for floor seating comfort. Again, all super cheap
  • A tee-pee that I borrowed from a coworker
  • A two-person couch I got for free with Scholastic points


Taking the metal, extendable legs off of a table can also make for a wonderful stage! And that costs no money! (if your school has extra tables in storage…)


Flash forward to my current classroom!
You will notice many similar seating options. There is a black bench at the front of the room that was free because it came from my school.
Another addition is the tent in the back corner which I got from Target during a sale for $30.
There are a few lap desks located throughout the room, too.
I was also able to get the small black tables and pillows/cushions from coworkers who were “Clearing out” their house and knew that they were “my colors.”

Now that you’ve learned about how I’ve come about my flexible seating pieces, onto the how and why.

How do you manage the seating choices in your classroom?

I have varied the structure of flexible seating based on my students and simply to experiment. During my first two teaching years, students had free range and picked where they sat throughout the entire day. If they weren’t making smart choices then they had one warning before I picked a spot for them to work during that activity.

This year, I have a “home base spot” where students go when I want them in a more structured space, and typically this is during whole group instruction. These are assigned spots, but I picked many of them strategically. Some students are in scoop rockers or on a ball because I know that they could use that movement opportunity. Others are closer or farther from the “stage” based on their needs.
During most other times of the day, they choose where they sit. Similar to my first years, they get one warning before I have them switch to a smarter spot.

Do you have students fighting over spots? Do they always pick the same spots?

Nope. They’ve come to learn that even though they didn’t get to sit by their friend during reading, they might have a chance to during math. In contrast to having assigned seats, I feel as though my students have had many more opportunities for social interaction. They are learning more about each other than they could in a typical classroom environment. Plus, they are quick to learn that sitting by one person during math might be a really good choice because that person can help them, or they might sit by someone else during reading because they like the same kinds of books.

Why do you use flexible seating?


This little guy pictured above is a 5 year old who stayed in that spot and looked at books for 20 minutes.  20 minutes for a five year old! No joke. Is he laying in a scoop rocker? Yeah. Does that bother me? OMG NO LOOK AT HIM HE IS SO ENGROSSED IN THAT BOOK! He could wiggle, kick his feet, whatever he needed.

I want to encourage students to develop good learning habits on their own.  I always tell my students

“When I go home and read for fun, do you think I sit at a desk? No! I crawl into bed or sit on the couch. When I grade papers do I work at a table? Sometimes, but usually I’m found in front of the TV with some snacks. While I’m doing grad school homework, sometimes I need to be at my desk and sometimes I need to read in a hammock on a beautiful day.”

I am blown away by the self awareness that students can develop by using flexible seating. I had two students last year who were the most social students I have ever met in my life. Seriously. In a school of 700+ kids I swear that they knew half of them. Anytime we walked in the halls they were waving to other kids and calling them by name. But when they were given an independent writing-based task to do they always picked an individual desk where nobody could sit by them. They focused, got their work done, and then moved on with their learning. A set of 5 year olds knew that they struggled with writing and wanted to focus without any distractions. During math? They rocked group work, always playing with a buddy.

Never doubt kids.


So what if this child isn’t sitting on a couch in the most typical way?! Look at that focus! And trust me, focus and staying on task aren’t some words I might use to describe her. Sweet and eager to learn? YES! Now provide a space that allows her to be successful.

There isn’t a classroom out there today that doesn’t have students that come in with all kinds of acronyms labeling them (ADD, ADHD, BD, ODD, etc etc etc). I had a student come in with bouncing-off-the-walls levels of energy. He bounced so hard on that yoga ball all day. Did it visually distract my direct instruction? Honestly, yes, but who cares? It’s not about me. I’m an adult. I’ve learned enough coping mechanisms to stay focused. That child was able to stay in my room all day and learn, and I’m not sure if that would have been the case if he was restricted to a typical desk. Could you have rows of desks and let the students that have some sensory needs use a disc-o seat or ball? Why not?

I’m not saying that you are a different quality teacher if you don’t use flexible seating. You probably have a much better hold on teaching strategies and academic concepts than me! I’m still learning. There are people out there (Like Hope King OMG! #teacherhero) who have rows but have the most amazing, engaging, blow-your-mind lessons. Plus, even with rows, her classroom is an incredible and captivating space that just can’t even be described.

Do what works for you and your students.

I wanted to create a space where kids felt comfortable and at home, and they had some sense of ownership. This is not my space, this is our classroom.

For more #flexseating inspiration, visit this article by Kayla Delzer. Her classroom is pictured below, and you can follow her at @topdogteaching or her students at @topdogkids on Instragram. I’ll be hearing her speak in February, and I can’t even begin to describe my excitement.


Stay Colorful


Illinois Reading Council Conference

On Friday, September 30th I was able to attend the Illinois Reading Council Conference in Peoria, Illinois and let me tell you it was AMAZING!

I personally know that teaching writing is one of my weakest areas (both handwriting and the writing process, ugh), so I made sure to get myself to Nell Duke A.S.A.P. Her session was called “Motivation Matters: How to Motivate Informational Reading and Writing.”


What I loved most was her affirmation of Project Based Learning. As an early childhood educator who just moved up to second grade, I’ve struggled with the balance of rigor and best practices.  It’s one of those things I already knew but I just needed that push, but a project based approach is PERFECT for informational writing.  I’ll post more about Genius Hour, a project based approach to writing, and the results of the student work at a later date. Stay tuned for a review of Nell Duke’s book “Inside Information” (I’ve got a few other books to finish before I can let myself start another one).


I heard from a colleague that Steven L. Layne was AMAZING during his session the previous day, so I knew where my next stop was. If you get a chance to hear him you neeeeeed to go! He started off by reading a passage from “Sold” by Patricia McCormick and those few minutes re-energized my passion for read-alouds. You could hear a pin drop in that packed room of educators.

He went on to discuss some general points from his book about the benefits of doing read-alouds with kids, including vocabulary, fluency, and text structure. His book cites specific studies done for so many different areas of reading to show that read-alouds really are best practice. Like the Nell Duke book, this is in my “to-read” pile, especially after listening to him!


Our school is the “Dunlap Grade School Royals” so we have a a crown, like Flat Stanley, that travels with us different places. Here’s my 2nd grade partner and I at our last session.

Last up was Mr. Schu and OMG I’ve been reading like crazy since his amazing session. His passion for books is contagious, and it definitely doubled my “to-read” pile. The combination of Mr. Schu and Steven Layne is changing how I approach my read-alouds. I found myself in a read-aloud rut; I was reading all of these easy, blah books just to up my class’ AR percentage. Now, we’re reading books that both the students and I are excited about, and (like Steven Layne explained) they are 1-2 reading levels above where my kids are independently. They are being exposed to new series, difficult vocabulary, and all different kinds of sentence structures. They are excited about reading, and so am I! And most important administratively, they are still doing well on AR quizzes.

As a math brain, I need all the help I can get with ELA.