How I Tried to Motivate Students to Read At Home- An old fashioned experiment

Like so many of us teachers, I was having difficulty with students not receiving higher scores on their district and state reading tests. The area that has the most direct impact on these scores is determined by whether or not a student spends time reading outside of class. Many of my middle school ELL students enter 6th grade either on reading level or already behind. From my experience this gap seldom closes. The only time I’ve seen it do so is if students read regularly at home. Reading years below grade level concerns me not only because of its effects academically, but economically as well. A lower reading ability reduces one’s access to higher paying jobs and potentially leads to areas of disenfranchisement.

In the past I would keep track of reading minutes each day & tie it to their grade, set & calculated their goals, had class celebrations, conferenced endlessly, gave PowerPoint presentations tying reading levels to future jobs, earnings potential and state test scores. I contacted parents about the importance of reading as well as sent book boxes/set home with families. But none of that seemed to help. Reading scores continue to decrease or become stagnate. The only things seemingly going up was stress and frustration on everyone’s part. I decided to try a different approach and see how many more students I could get on board with reading more regularly at home for longer periods of time because they wanted to, not because they had to. I didn’t want to overly complicate things. So I went with the old-fashioned yet highly researched idea of ‘right fit books’ and student driven/input.

Second semester, I focused on a group of 5, 7th graders (2 boys & 3 girls). I had students give suggestions of books they read and loved, genres they liked, books other kids in their classes enjoyed as well as searched websites for reviews. I also contacted our library professionals to offer suggestions and help me put together little sets. The class decided to split (boys/girls) and read 2 different books. Besides finding a book I wanted to let the kids know that I too in my busy schedule could find time to read right along with them. The key for all of us was not to make it seems like homework or a chore, but that it something fun for us to do together. So I didn’t take score or keep points. We would read for leisure at a pace that worked for us each week. In the process, I also didn’t want to take up much class time since we already had set units we still had to cover. So we decided on short check-ins where we would as a group we would determine the number of pages/chapters we would complete for the next week. We would also share/discuss what  was surprising/inspiring/upsetting/thrilling/etc. so far in the story. This process fostered students’ connections and offered them access to knowledge/ideas/vocab/concepts which helped them to better link information from various angles and subject matter. It also gave us a new relationship with books and each other. We develop a deepened level of trust and understanding as well as attempted to increase reading confidence and motivation.

Unfortunately though, this doesn’t have a Hollywood ending. Not all students were reading regularly in their free time nor did their district benchmark test scores skyrocket.  But I did have some successes. Four of the 5 students finished the book. Of the 4 who finished, 3 of them went on to read other books outside of our little book club. One stopped reading only graphic novels and moved on to 300+ page books with complicated plots. By the end of the semester she raised her reading by another whole grade level. Two other students didn’t raise their test scores but they did find a genre of book that they really enjoy and went on to read 2-3 more books. One realized she liked teen romance and that other discovered through our book club that he loves books about WWII. The latter commented “This type of book makes me feel like I’m right in the story! It is really hard to put it down. I actually didn’t play GTA last night. I read this instead.”  Three of the 5 also said they were playing around/spacing out less in their ELA classes and taking more advantage of the silent reading time their teacher was giving them. The two that didn’t read any more books outside of class did however go to the library on several occasions trying to find a book/genre/author that interests them. Unfortunately, we are going to have to keep looking. But I have hope and plan to try it out again next year.


Does This Sound Familiar? Did this happen to you to?

Using your past experiences & the future to shape your present…

We have all had learning experiences in the past that have shaped us as people and caused us to act as we do in the present. We can reflect on specific persons we want to emulate or situations we want to repeat. Then of course there are those that we do not wish to imitate and try to avoid. In deciding what to do, we can try not only to look at the past but also the future. Like when creating a lesson, we can apply backwards design to determine our behavior by thinking of what we want to accomplish and how Continue reading

Everyone, Stop & Look!



“A 7th grade student came in as I was putting stamps on a letter.
He asked what I was doing & ‘what were the stickers for?’
He honestly had no idea what the purpose of stamps were or how the whole mail process worked?!
ie… stamps are like money, they prove that you pay, takes $ to cover costs of personnel/trucks, etc..
Another self-reminder to always ask questions, determine prior knowledge & don’t presume anything…
not even what you assume to be basic/everyday knowledge…”

FREE Youtube Videos on the Top 100 Most Frequently Misspelled Words!

Here it is! 🙂

Above is a link to one of the FREE videos I created to help teachers & students! So far I have 10 posted w/ the next 20 to be uploaded SOON!! Show them thru-0ut the year to help improve student spelling! You can go to to get the FREE PowerPoint on all 5 Spelling Strategy Types! You can make your own spelling cards for your class OR purchase a copy of the Innovative Spelling Teacher & Student Notebook. It is only $4.75 & the funds will go towards maintaining this site & creating more materials/videos!   If interested see book description below.                                                                                                                                      Thx a MILLION!

Innovative Spelling Practice Exercises!!! The book is HERE!! It has practice cards, exercises & pre/post tests for ALL 20 videos!!!! Great resource! Ck it out at

Innovative Spelling Teacher & Student Notebook!


This book WITH its corresponding MINI-LESSONS ON YOUTUBE, brings the FREE Innovative Spelling PowerPoint to life & puts the power of learning in your students’ hands!!!

Innovative Spelling is a technique which helps teachers and students for whom the traditional materials/spelling practice does not work. Continue reading

An Interview with Dr. David Sousa- Author of the Innovative Series “How the Brain Learns”

 When I spoke with Dr. Sousa last year, I wanted to spotlight two questions. 1-What was the impetus for writing his series on the brain which has thus far led to some 25 books on brain based learning. 2- Where he was focusing his aim towards in the near future.

Our conversation began by discussing staff development overall. He stressed that “it is important to have a common educational language and culture if you plan to make any real change in a school, district or other institution. Real change that impacts students doesn’t come from ‘pick and choose’ staff development programs.” I couldn’t agree more. Dr.Sousa went on to explain that when he worked for school districts, he centered his approach to staff development in this manner.

In 1985 he began to learn about brain science. He developed a strong interest in exploring this understanding and applying it to teaching. Much of teaching research at that time was driven by behavioral science. As the brain is where thinking and learning take place, he felt that in order to have more effective student learning, teachers needed to also understand the brain and how it works. This connection between brain research and teaching excited him. “I sought out like minds and formed a group with a mission to make teachers aware of this, its use and impact. And have been doing it ever since.”

The book that started it all, How the Brain Learns: A Classroom Teacher’s Guide, was first published in 1995 and he has written a study stream of ‘The Brain’ books since.

I asked Dr. Sousa what he was up to next. He said that for the last 6 years he has said he was going to retire but still hadn’t made the leap. However he admitted that he has “been slowing down and doing less travelling.” He doesn’t lead at as many district level workshops but is still often on the road presenting at larger venues.

Dr.Sousa also shared with me that he has been working steadily on his latest passion, emphasizing the importance and pushing for the reestablishment of the arts in school. He explained that with the push in classrooms across America to increase science, technology, engineering and math (S.T.E.M.), as a result, “the arts are being kicked out.” He went on to explain that arts and sciences “are both divergent thinking-not one answer rules.” They all require higher level thought and complement each other. Therefore he has been pushing to get the arts back into the equation, moving from the idea of S.T.E.M. to S.T.E.A.M – Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math.

At the time of my interview, his latest book From STEM to STEAM: Using Brain-Compatible Strategies to Integrate the Arts by David A. Sousa and Thomas J. Pilecki(Mar 5, 2013) was in manuscript form and soon to be published. Now you can find it and his other books on Amazon or the SAGE Publishing website.


cropped foto of carol ann tomlinson Also check out the interview with Dr. Carol Ann Tomlinson!

Click the link to read all about it!!!

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“What to do with a new ESL middle schooler????” SHARE YOU IDEAS!!!

What do to w/ a first grade Newcomer? Regular Newcomer text seem to high of a reading level? New at this and need help!”    WHAT DO YOU SUGGEST???


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Please Give To the ‘Love Of Learning Library’ in Honor of Liz Warner- Fellow ELL Educator


Dear Friends, Fellow Teachers and Family,

Few of us are faced with learning that a terminal disease will soon take our life.
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priorities in life

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. All of a sudden, what used to be important no longer exists
and new things become important.

I am a fortunate woman. The support my friends and family have given me over the
past few months has been unbelievable. I have felt your love every single day.

My work with the Honors Academy of Literature is one important priority for me. I
have spent my adult life supporting teachers and students and I would really
love for that support to continue. In order for this to happen, I am donating
the first $25,000 to get the school library started.

You can help me continue to support this brand new public charter school. In lieu
of flowers or gifts, you can help me build the library for our school. Please,
instead of sending a bouquet of flowers, send a donation or buy a copy of your
favorite book for our library.  I am excited that I can help leave a legacy of learning for students.

Liz Warner, MA