Summer Reading for Professional Development

We spend a lot of time talking about the importance of summer reading for kids, but as teachers and professional learners, summer is also a great time to catch up on our own reading. During the school year, there isn’t always time to stay up to date with the latest research or dive deep into specific topics. Summer, although often still busy, gives us a chance to step back and be learners. To help get your own summer reading started, we asked our consultants to share their professional development summer reading recommendations.

LitLife West Hudson Executive Director, Patty Vitale-Reilly recommends a mix of books, periodicals and digital resources this summer. Her summer reading list includes Teaching with the Brain in Mind by Eric Jensen, the Harvard Education Letter, EL (Educational Leadership, ASCD), Edutopia, Education Week, Teachers College Journal and the IRA Magazines-Reading Today and Reading Research Quarterly.

We also recommend LitLife consultant Jennifer Scoggin’s new book “Be Fabulous: The Reading Teacher’s Guide to Reclaiming Your Happiness in the Classroom,” which comes out in August–just in time to help you prepare mentally for your return to the classroom. Jen will help you reconnect to your “inner fabulous” in order provide the best possible literacy instruction.

Professional learning is even better when you have a partner to share ideas with and talk to about your reading. Our consultants often pair up in their work and learning lives. This summer, Jaime Margolies and Georgie Marley are both reading Rigorous Reading: 5 Access Points for Comprehending Complex Texts by Nancy Frey and Doug Fisher. Georgie says, “It’s a more complicated read than Falling in Love with Close Reading,” which they both read during the school year, “so I thought the summer would be a good time [to read it].”

Jaime is also teaming up with Patty to read The Differentiated School by Carol Ann Tomlinson. She also recommends Readers Front and Center by Dorothy Barnhouse.

And don’t forget to pick up a copy of Be Core Ready, the foundational book of the Core Ready series. Pam Allyn’s “4 Doors to the Core” provide practical steps for aligning your teaching with the Common Core standards in ways that meet the needs of all of your students.

Do you have a great recommendation for professional summer reading? Let us know in the comments below!

The Write Way to Spend Summer

LitLife’s Executive Director Pam Allyn is the new spokesperson for BIC Kid’s Fight for Your Write campaign, an effort meant to get kids writing more, both in and outside of school. Like summer reading, writing over the summer is another great way to help students fight the summer slide. Check out the article below for more info on how to guide your child to writing in meaningful, creative ways this summer.

The Write Way to Spend the Summer

During the school year, children are writing in the classroom – anything from essays to book reports to spelling tests. Motivating children to write in the summer, however, can be a challenge for some parents.

Summertime can be a wonderful opportunity to engage your child in writing for his or her own purposes – not because of a homework assignment. This will lead your child to the discovery that writing can be FUN! It’s also a profoundly special way for you to celebrate the unique perspective and ideas your child has and is developing. Writing in the summer can bring many gifts for both you and your child.

Here are some ideas and tips to keep your child writing during the school break:

  • Keep a Summer Journal: Provide your child with a journal that they can personalize and decorate, and encourage writing in it daily. This will provide children with the outlet to write about places they have seen, or summer trips they have taken, or even more everyday things such as a movie they watched or a game they played with their friends! Value and cherish the small moments: a walk to the park or a late afternoon ice cream. Encourage your child to write these special moments so neither of you ever forget them.
  • Summer Scrapbook: Create a scrapbook or photo album of summer activities, including photographs, ticket stubs, and other mementos. Have your child write captions for the artifacts to describe his experiences and to remember the details.
  • Take it Outside! Writing doesn’t have to happen at a kitchen table. Show your child that writing happens in the outdoor summer sun too. Give your child some chalk and decorate the driveway or walkway on a hot summer afternoon. Take a walk with a journal, recording the bright colors of the flower by the roadside, the sounds of street noise or wonderings about people you notice around you.
  • Spy on the World: For centuries, nature has been the source of inspiration for many great poets and authors. Sometimes children resist writing because they think of it as a solitary activity that has to happen inside seated at a table or desk. Spend days carefully documenting the world and the people in it, and go for field trips in nature or people watching walks. Stop every now and then to sit under a shady tree or on a park bench to jot down your wonderings and observations together.

- See more at:

Apps for Summer Reading 2.0

Summer Reading is one of the best ways to help students fight the summer slide. With three months out of school, it is important to keep students’ minds engaged and learning all summer long. Last year, we gathered together some of our favorite reading apps to help fight the summer slide. We’re still big fans of all of those apps, so be sure to check them out here. However, the world of apps is constantly evolving, so we thought we’d update our list for 2014 with some of this year’s new discoveries. Check them out, and be sure to share your favorite summer reading apps in the comments below!

NYTimes Opinion App: Great for middle and upper readers, this app gives students access to an expanded NYTimes Opinion Section. Full of authentic examples of argument texts that tackle an array of topics, this app also includes interactive features to make the reading experience more immersive. Students can follow along as stories develop with real-time updates and can participate in live question-and-answer sessions with the columnists. The app does require a subscription, but the education rates are pretty reasonable (4 weeks free, and then $1.13 a week after that).


Image via

A Word’s A Bird: There’s something about long summer days and poetry that just makes sense. This beautiful bilingual app (English and French) gives students a chance to explore the wonderful world of poetry alongside stunning watercolor illustrations. Students can read and listen to poetry in both languages, making it accessible to even the youngest readers.

Spirit Animals: This interactive game combines the digital world with print. Each book in the Spirit Animals series unlocks expanded game-play in the online world of Erdas. The 8 books are all written by best-selling Scholastic authors and follow the stories of 4 different characters. In the game, students create their own characters and complete quests to save Erdas. Students can also participate in forums and make friends with other players in the game.

Bookabi: Summer vacation is full of adventures real and imagined. With Bookabi, students can tell their own stories using the in-app illustrations, as well as their own photos. Stories can be saved and shared during family read-alouds throughout the summer months.


Image via iTunes Store

Scholastic’s Summer Reading Timer: We’re big fans of Scholastic’s Summer Reading Challenge, which encourages students to read all summer long with rewards and reading resources. With the Summer Reading Timer, students have a fun, easy way to keep track of their reading minutes, whether their participating in the challenge, or just keeping a personal record. The app also offers daily tips and articles for parents to help engage students and reading throughout the summer!

LitLife’s top 5 ways teachers can use Google Drive

There are thousands of tech tools and apps built for educators on the market, but here at LitLife, our absolute favorite tool for teachers is Google Drive and it’s suite of features. Below are the top five ways LitLife consultants recommend using Google Drive in your teaching.

 1.)   Team Planning

Units can be written collaboratively on Google Docs, modified collaboratively, and all updates are in real-time, so there’s never confusion on which is the “most recent draft.”  Team members can easily leave each other comments and chat right in the doc, so collaborating even when you can’t all be in the same room at the same time is easy.

 2.)   Sharing Resources

Google Drive is a great way to store and share resources.  Teachers can upload anchor texts, photos of charts, PDFs of student work and templates that can be accessed from anywhere.  Any document on Google Drive can be shared via email. You can decide how much access you want to give to the person (viewing, editing, etc.), meaning specialists, consultants, and parents can all be brought into a document to view information and even collaborate on it. It’s easy and seamless to keep people in the loop (rather than a long email chain of document attachments).

 3.)   Student Writing

Have students write their drafts and published pieces on Google Docs. Students can have their own folders and all documents are stored there. Students can access and work on their documents at home and on any classroom computer, so they don’t have to carry around a drive and work can’t be lost between home and school.  Students’ work will all be stored in one place, creating a virtual portfolio of their writing.

 4.)   Conferences

Teachers and students can have the writing in front of them during a conference. Any notes can be written in directly by the student in a colored font. Teachers can put in comments during a conference that students can check-off when they’ve read and completed it.

 5.)   Revisions

Google Docs allows for revision history, which allows teachers to see all of the writing process.  Teachers (or peer editors or group collaborators) can post a comment on a student draft, the student can make those changes and then check “resolve”, plus add a comment if they like, which creates a neat dialogue around the changes in their work. You can not only see what changes you’ve made, but you can also reread the old draft of the document, and even restore it if you want.

Have you found creative ways to use Google Drive in your classroom? Share them with us in the comments below!

New approaches to ELA instruction

By Todd Feltman

Students who struggle in reading and writing often become disengaged with traditional instructional methods. Boys in particular, who often benefit from kinesthetic learning activities, may become frustrated in reading and writing. It’s crucial, therefore, to develop instructional techniques that promote engagement and move students along the academic continuum.

These literacy instructional techniques for developing text-based writing tasks, reading to locate text-based evidence and writing independently can benefit upper elementary and middle school students. Although they were developed initially to address the needs of boys in grades 5-8, they can be helpful for all students.

Developing a text-based writing task

  • Select relevant and fascinating topics based on student interest. You might consider completing an interest inventory three times during the school year (for example, in September, January and April).
  • Choose complex and interesting readings that contain pictures, diagrams, maps and charts.
  • Visual learners will benefit from these text features.
  • Complete the writing task as if you were a student. You’ll be able to anticipate challenges and potential questions that might arise, and that particular writing task will become easier to teach.
  • Share the task with students and ask for feedback. Student voice is important. If their feedback is appropriate, incorporate their suggestions into a revised task. This will motivate students and give them ownership of their work.
  • Provide a list of clearly written and bulleted task expectations that students can refer to when completing their drafts. A checklist can also be a useful visual tool.
  • Distribute two copies of a monthly calendar page that includes specific calendar date deadlines for drafts. Students can keep one copy in their planners and the other one at home. This page with due dates holds students accountable.

Close reading to locate text-based evidence

  • Before beginning to read any nonfiction text, it’s important to provide an opportunity for students to share their prior knowledge about the topic. This technique also serves as an informal baseline assessment of what they know.
  • Students’ first reading of a text should be for understanding. The second time, students can begin to locate text-based evidence.
  • Encourage students to use a highlighter to annotate text-based evidence.
  • Students should create graphic organizers, including a place for drawing, before beginning the actual writing task. Remind students to use this graphic organizer as a road map while completing the task.

Independent writing process

  • Remind students to skip lines when writing a rough draft. This facilitates easier independent proofreading, peer editing and revising.
  • Provide stretching breaks during independent writing time. Some students are better able to focus on completing writing tasks after a stretching opportunity. Teachers can implement whole-class stretching times or just allow students to stretch when the need arises. Permitting some students to stand while they write can also help them sustain concentration.
  • Require students to proofread their work independently by reading it aloud. Students should then make corrections in blue, green or red pen. Since these three colors are noticeable, students are more likely to include their edits and revisions in their final writing piece.
  • Allow students to type their final drafts. Students will deepen their technological skills and also enjoy selecting an image for their cover page. The expectation of typing a final draft can begin as early as 3rd grade.
  • Arrange one-to-one conferences with students about their graded writing pieces to explain their strengths and areas for improvement.
  • Provide opportunities for students to share their writing with the class. Remind them to speak in their “confident playground voices.” This helps other students listen to what is being said and become active learners.

Guest blogger Todd Feltman has been molding young minds for the last sixteen years in New York City public and independent schools as a classroom teacher, new teacher mentor, literacy coach and journalism/writing teacher.  He is currently a network elementary and middle school achievement coach in English Language Arts.  Todd earned his doctorate in Urban Education from the Graduate Center within the City University of New York.  Todd has three master’s degrees, which include childhood education, literacy education and school supervision/administration. He is passionate about engaging and supporting boys in reading and writing.

*This post originally appeared in the September 26, 2013 issue of New York Teacher from the United Federation of Teachers.

Earth Day Read Alouds

Today is Earth Day–when we all come together to celebrate this beautiful world we live in and remember all we need to do to take care of it. Earth Day is a great time to start a discussion with students about their role in taking care of the environment. A read aloud can help spark the conversation with concrete examples.  We’ve included some of our favorite EarthDay read alouds below.

The Lorax  by Dr. Seuss

Ages 6 – 9


The Lorax,  the protector of the trees, explains the ecological crisis through the rhyming, twisting, silly  language of Dr. Seuss in this classic, colorful story.




The Earth Book by Todd Parr

Ages 3 – 6



Todd Parr is the perfect author to introduce our youngest readers to the concepts of conservation and working together to protect the Earth. Even the book itself is green – it’s made of completely recycled materials!



The Curious Garden  by Peter Brown

Ages 3 – 6



Liam’s efforts to save a struggling garden lead to a greener, more beautiful world in this beautiful picture book.




Hoot  by Carl Hiaasen

Ages 10 – 15



Three middle schoolers team up to save the miniature owls’ whose habitat is threatened to be destroyed by new development. This novel for young readers is a great tool for showing kids they really can make a difference.




It’s Earth Day (A Little Critters Book) by Mercer Myer

Ages 4 – 8

download (1)


Everyone’s favorite Critter shows students simple ways they can conserve energy, recycle and make the planet a cleaner, more beautiful place.


SXSWedu Reflections


This past week, 2 of our team members attended the SXSWedu conference in Austin, TX. The conference brought together teachers, administrators, edtech developers, policy makers and more for a 4 day conference where they could learn together and exchange ideas. We spent the week attending panels and workshops in order to uncover emerging trends in education. Throughout the week, we began seeing patterns in the discourse. Here are some of the recurring concerns and trends we saw:

1. Access, access, access

In the workshop "Probing Needs and Prototyping Solutions: DT4EdTech" we worked with a group of teachers and administrators to develop a prototype of a corporate sponsorship to get recycled mobile hotspots in students' homes.

In the workshop “Probing Needs and Prototyping Solutions” we worked with teachers & administrators to develop a prototype of a corporate sponsorship to get mobile hotspots in students’ homes.

One thing we saw over and over again was that access was the key issue teachers and administrators are dealing with. As great as all of the newly available edtech is, there isn’t much schools can do with it if their students don’t have access. For many teachers, administrators and school CTOs, the issue of access was not one of putting devices in students’ hands, but one connecting those students and their devices to the Internet. We heard from people expressing concerns both about the ability of schools to keep up with demands for better, faster broadband access and about students’ ability to stay connected outside of school. It’s hard for teachers to integrate tech in the classroom when only half of their students have experience with using computers and the Internet at home.

2. Data

Vivienne and Norma Ming present their keynote, "Keeping the Promise of Educational Technology" on Day 2 of SXSWedu.

  Vivienne and Norma Ming present their keynote, “Keeping the Promise of Educational Technology” on Day 2 of SXSWedu.

Like many of the themes we saw at SXSWedu, the topic of data was  multi-faceted. On one side, there was a celebration of all that data  can help us achieve. By collecting and processing data through the  many software programs and apps that have come on the market,  we can pinpoint our students’ needs and personalize our teaching  to maximize their learning. On the other side of the topic however,  is the issue of privacy. As teachers, administrators and policy  makers, we need to be very careful of students’ privacy in our data  collection and storage. As testing and data storage move online,  this will be become an even bigger issue.

3. Personalized learning

Personalized learning and technology’s ability to help us achieve personalized learning plans for each and every students were huge at SXSWedu. Apps and programs like Khan Academy allow us to teach to every students’ learning level at once, not just to the middle. As access to technology increases, we will be able to target individual students’ learning needs and elevate them to new levels of learning and thinking. Many presenters seemed to view using data to create personal learning plans as the ultimate goal.

4. Communication between edtech developers and teachers/students

Edtech developers had a huge presence at SXSWedu, not just as sponsors and presenters, but also as activate audience members. We were excited to see that a repeated theme in presentations directed at edtech entrepreneurs was the need to include students and teachers in the development process. Schools do not need entrepreneurs to hand them solutions, they need to work with the edtech industry to solve existing problems. The most successful edtech programs are built with student and teacher voices in mind and adapt to the needs of the people they are developed for.

5. New Learning Models

Learning about people centered problem solving and design thinking during the workshop "Probing Need and Prototyping Solutions: DT4EdTech"

Learning about people centered problem solving and design thinking during the workshop “Probing Need and Prototyping Solutions: DT4EdTec

There were many new models of teaching and learning (and some old models that have been given a facelift with new vocabulary) that were discussed at the conference. Two of the biggest trends we saw were the Independent, or Self-Directed Learning model of getting kids out of the classroom and into real-world experiences and the Design Thinking model of learning through the process of finding solutions to real problems. Both highlighted the need for authentic learning opportunities with real-world applications. One of the most interesting things about these new models is that they can be administered piecemeal. Teachers can use what fits, and what they’re able to do with the resources they have, to personalize learning in a real, effective way. Flexibility and experimentation for both teachers and students are key.