The Lightning Thief

Sunday, September 17, 2017

     We were just a few days into the school year, and I was meeting with our assistant principal.  In walks a first year teacher, who had done a few maternity leaves for us the year before, and he says, "Leah, I really want to read The Lightening Thief aloud to my class.  Do you think that would be ok?"

     I had never read The Lightning Thief before, but of course I knew about it.  I knew it was on the longer side, and I almost hesitated, but I also knew this teacher.  If it mattered to him, it would matter to his students.  So, I said "Of course!  When are you starting?"  I figured I would find the book, read it, and give him tips before he began.

     "In 15 minutes, if that's ok."

     "Sure.  I'll be up there in a little bit."

     Slight Panic.

     I ran to another classroom, borrowed a copy, and joined him.  I listened to him read that first chapter to his kids, and I heard his voice become Mrs. Dodds.  Then I went home and read the book so that I could offer coaching support along the way.

     A year later, this showed up in my TimeHop.  It turns out, we both now see that as the day he really became a teacher.  Now, I'm not Mr. Harvey, so I can't speak for him.  But, I'll tell you why I think he became a teacher that day.  He took his own passion, and began to use it as fuel for learning in his classroom.  Teachers who know who they are, and what they believe in, and use that to focus the learning in their class, are often very successful in transferring that passion to their kids.  Here is my view of how that happened with Mr. Harvey.

     It started as a read aloud of a book that he really loved.  It turned into an anchor for the literacy environment of his classroom. 

     After the first few chapters, we decided to use The Lightning Thief to introduce the students to sketchnoting.  We taught them one sentence summarizing and gave them a sketchnote toolbox of strategies, and they were off.  

The sketchnote I modeled to introduce the quest, and digital sketchnoting.
     Once they got that down, we further focused the learning on character development, rather than summarizing, and focused on his quest.  Now, if you teach 4th grade, you probably already realize that the Common Core Standards for 4th ask us to analyze character development and compare and contrast events, like the quest, in RL3 and RL9.  So, that's what he did.  

     When the book was getting a little too long to read, we found a copy of the graphic novel, and started using excerpts of that novel.  What we discovered is that is not only help students visualize the myth based setting of The Lightning Thief, but is also introduced them to the genre of graphic novels, and supported their ability to read them with more rigor.  It also helped his focus on the Greek Gods, and they started close reading passages about those figures that are so pivotal to the novel (more secret Common Core lessons embedded there).

     Then, as the year went on, some of his students started independently reading the other books in the series!  Others were reading more nonfiction about Greek myths.  Some had found a love for fantasy.  Others moved on entirely to different genres, and that's ok, too.  He was still able to refer back to those key lessons on characters, and text comparisons, and how to sketchnote, with The Lightning Thief in mind.  

     To end the year, he actually bought 28 copies of The Lightning Thief, and gave a copy to each of his students with a note.  This year, one of his students actually returned to 5th grade and had that book as her Me Bag item.  It had defined her as a reader, and so many others as well.

     One of my goals as a teacher, literacy coach, and Literacy Coordinator, is to grow READERS.  My goal is not to achieve mastery on the Common Core Standards, though doing so will help them as readers, but we cannot have them as our only target, and forget to inspire our students to actually become a reader themselves.  How can we get our students to see the value of reading?  One of the easiest ways, in my humble opinion, in modeling our lives as readers, too.  

     Do you love reading the sports page?  Show that side of yourself to your kids.

     Do you love comics or graphic novels?  Pass that genre on to your students.

     Do you love nonfiction texts?  Show your students why.

     What is your favorite novel?  If it is grade level appropriate, can you use it to leverage a reading environment in your class?

     Thank you, Mr. Harvey, for sharing a piece of your heart with your students, and in the end creating a room full of readers.  

Number the Stars

Sunday, September 3, 2017

     I woke up this Sunday morning, and discovered that H-Bomb was trending on Twitter.  After reading about 10 minutes of posts, I was ready to allow myself to fall into a ball of anxiety.  (For those of you who know me personally, that actually happens quite a bit.)  But, to quote Senator Chris Murphy from a few months ago from another context entirely, this time I was literally on the verge of nuclear grade bonkers, because this world seems to be falling apart right before my eyes.

     In an attempt to bring myself out of hysteria, I went to social media to find something positive to focus on.  The thing is, both types of news trend on social media.  You can read how the world is falling apart, and how the world is coming back together.  I often tend to read bad news, followed by good news.  Today's good news came from a FB post from Lois Lowry that led to a Facebook live video of Sean Astin.

     Oh, how I love the Goonies.  I was a Walsh myself before I became an O'Donnell.  In fact, Mikey Walsh and I kind of grew up together.  Seeing Sean Astin's character as an optimist who thinks that good can triumph evil, especially when working together with an unlikely team, helped the young version of myself become an optimist, too.  I still am today, thanks to movies and books like the Goonies. 

     Today, I discovered that Sean Astin must be an optimist in real life, as well as in film.  He went on Facebook live to say that it is his dream to turn Number the Stars into a film.  He and his wife have been working on the project for 10 years, because in simple terms he thinks that the message of the books is "Sometimes, good wins."  I whole heartedly agree.

     The world DESERVES to hear this message.

     Number the Stars is a masterpiece of literature.  The themes woven through it are timeless, while the characters and symbols bring us to a time period that we should never forget.  We cannot let history repeat itself, and this book is a wonderful example of war told through a child's eyes.  If we can get children to see the world differently, then perhaps the world will be different.  They are, after all, the keys to our future.

     Whenever I see a student reading Number the Stars, I always ask them what chapter they are on.  If they haven't yet read Chapter 14, I tell them to find me when they have finished it.  Chapter 14 has to be my favorite chapter in all of children's literature.  It's when fairy tale meets real life, when the character meets the Big, Bad Wolf.  The path she takes is dark and scary, but full of memories of stories, and those memories fuel her to do the right thing, even in dark times.  Little Red faces the Big, Bad Wolf, and good eventually wins.

     The world would benefit from seeing Annemarie's story.

     Making movies of a film also tends to increase students reading that title.  By making this film, it would introduce children to the long list of books written by Lois Lowry.  That would be a hidden perk to a wonderful film.  This literacy coordinator/coach would love to see her books in the hands of more students.  In our district, it is one of the choices for our 4th grade mentor text.  I highly recommend it.  If the novel does become a film, using clips of the movie to compare to the text would be an excellent way to teach media literacy.  I can visualize students reading, then viewing, Chapter 14, and having conversations about it.  Chills.


Friday, August 4, 2017

"Twinkle lights are the perfect metaphor for joy. Joy is not a constant. It comes to us in moments - often ordinary moments. Sometimes we miss out on the bursts of joy because we're too busy chasing down extraordinary moments. Other times we're so afraid of the dark we don't dare let ourselves enjoy the light. A joyful life is not a floodlight of joy. That would eventually become unbearable. I believe a joyful life is made up of joyful moments gracefully strung together by trust, gratitude, inspiration, and faith."
-Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection

This TGIF post is inspired by BigTime Literacy.


On this Friday, I am putting out there that I hope to be a person people can trust as I move into my new role this fall.  Trust is critical to relationships, and I am about to make a lot of new relationships with people across my district.  I'm looking forward to new collaboration.  We are #bettertogether.


I am grateful for moments with family this summer.  While it has been a busy summer, I am so grateful for every moment I have had with my husband and kids, as well as my mom and sister and extended family.  Family matters.  That's a TV show, and a true statement.


I am currently inspired by many authors.  I've done some summer reading, and the work of Linda Sue Park (A Long Walk to Water), Angie Thomas (The Hate U Give), Peter Brown (The Wild Robot), and Mo Willems (Diva and Flea) are fresh in my mind this week.  Some of those books helped me notice author's craft, and some helped me see the world in a new way.  Both lenses are inspirational to me.


I have faith that the school year that is fast approaching is where we need to be.  I am hopeful that my students get the teachers that they need, and that I am the teacher that students need in the fall.  

Fudge Judge

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

     I was going to write this post, asking you not to judge me because I have eaten fudge for breakfast the last two day.  One was chocolate fudge, and one was cherry fudge.  Tomorrow will be peanut butter fudge.  Yep, there will be a third day of fudge consumption for breakfast.  I mean, going to Door County to fudge shop is a relatively rare experience, so I don't feel all that guilty about my choices.  I have also woken up for work before my kids, so they don't see me either.  That's a positive. 

     And then I realized that fudge and judge rhyme...  

     The post title became Fudge Judge, even though that doesn't even make much sense.   It's ok if you judge me for that.  :)

Door County

Monday, July 17, 2017

We went to Door County to celebrate my aunt and uncle's 50th anniversary this weekend.  

...watched cars at the Hinsdale Oasis while eating pancakes from McDonalds
...played with giraffes and seals at the Milwaukee Zoo
...pretended to be Packers Fan (for a few minutes) in Green Bay
...ate pizza in Sister Bay at 10pm with 3 kids (bad moms)
...had cherry stuffed french toast at The White Gull Inn
...bought fudge and souvenirs in Fish Creek
...celebrated 50 years with the extended family
...rushed to see a sunset in Ellison Bay and caught a sliver of it
...had dinner (again too late) by the fire at our hotel
...had yet another breakfast, this time scoring some cherry jam
...threw rocks into the lake at Ellison Bay Beach after sliding on some slides
...went cherry picking with no actual intention to bake (but froze them anyway)
...bought a necklace in honor of our own 15th anniversary at O'Meara's
...stopped at Fun Park and go-karted around a bit
...made a stop at the Mars Cheese Castle for some world famous cheese curds
...took 94 into the city to see Chicago at night on our way home
...fell asleep

It's pretty awesome that 50 years ago, my aunt and uncle got married, and that resulted in the memories my family had this weekend.  

Love is amazing.

Be Present

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

     I was at the eye doctor with my son, and I found myself looking at this sign on the wall.  I have to admit, I stared at it longer than I would have thought I would have to to read it.  About midway through the stare, I almost convinced myself that I need glasses myself.  But then, I was able to decipher the message.  


(I promise, it's a lot harder to read when the letters get smaller and they are weathered on wood. 
Or my 40 year old eyes might actually need glasses now, too.)

     My #oneword for last year was Present, so this sign struck a chord with me.  It's so true.  It's amazing the things that we miss that are right in front of us.  Our life gets busy, our stress tells us to focus on other things, our eyes don't focus on the things that our right in front of our face.  It's up to us to refocus on what matters.

    Thank you, eye doctor, for the reminder.


Sunday, July 9, 2017

     Two weeks ago, we were in Legoland, making s'mores by the pool.  Yesterday, I was in the Dunkin Donuts line getting my 99 cent iced coffee.  The promo for the new s'mores donut brought me right back to the deck of that pool.  My daughter was toasting a marshmallow for me, as I readied the graham crackers and chocolate.  I was there again, chocolate fingers and all.  

      I added a donut to my order, even though it was late in the afternoon and I knew it wouldn't be oven fresh.  I just had to.

     Guess what?  This donut was terrible.  My vacation, on the other hand, was not terrible.  :)  

     Oh well.