How to Write Short: a Must-Read! {Great Reads}

How to Write Short

Quick:   How many words was your last blog post or article?  Under 100? 500? 1,000?  Did you get your message across? How do you know? Could you have said it in fewer words without losing its essence? What would have been the benefit of doing so?

These are just a few of the questions addressed in Dr. Roy Peter Clark’s How to Write Short: Word Craft for Fast Times, publication 2013. “A writer who teaches and a teacher who writes…,” Clark shares many historical and contemporary examples, annotated to help the reader see the value in and purpose for, short-form communication.  Grace Notes help put ideas into (approachable) practice.

Both the title and the cover design caught my eye a few months ago. Life came first. I finished How to Write Short last week, chuckling – and highlighting – to the last page.  This book speaks to my writing sensibilities. Turns out I’ve been a short-form writer all along!

Texts, tweets, t-shirts …. all part of my writing real estate, and all represented in this book.
Six words? Got ‘em covered nearly every Wednesday! (that’s six by the way)
Lists? Love them.
Sticky notes?  Queen of…
Margins. Text annotation.
Word craft.
Short form.


word count?  212  😉

Innie or Outie? Quiet: The Power of Introverts {Great Reads}

Are you in introvert or an extrovert? Or are you both?

I’ve always considered myself an extrovert. Those who know me would agree.

I strike up conversations in public. I strike up conversations with teenagers I’ve never met, on my campus, nearly every day.  They sometimes (okay, often!) look at me like I’m crazy, but usually chat back and end up with a big smile.  In my family, we call it the “Mary Lee Legacy,” after my dear grandmother who’s never met a stranger in her life. She taught me well.  🙂


All fit.

Other days, I don’t want to be bothered.


These fit, too.

So how does one align these two apparently opposite ends of the spectrum?  Camouflage.  Masquerade.  Dance of the Peacock.  Call it what you will.

Quiet Book CoverAccording to Sara Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, many introverts often mask themselves (to some degree) as extroverts, in order to “fit” in a world that values extroverts’ contributions. Could this explain my over-the-top teaching, action-packed presenting, and talk-in-the-produce-section shopping?? Only if you combine those qualities with my deep wish to be ‘left the hell alone,’ thank-you-very-much.

Or maybe I really am more extroverted, but have discovered my introverted side as I’ve aged. Mellowed, maybe? I don’t know about the ‘mellow’ part. I’m pretty passionate about a lot of things… and not afraid to show it.  So what gives?

I’m not entirely sure, but what I do know is this: To be alone is to engage with my own thoughts. I like quiet time.  Lots of it!  My brain seems to go 24/7 and I need an outlet.

Writing provides the outlet. Reading, the catalyst.

How about you: Innie? Outie? Masquerading?  Or, are you sure about who you are??  ….   How do you know?

Here We Go: Awesome Sites for Educators

A new school year begins… preplanning starts officially today, though ‘planning’ has been going on all most of summer.  For me, being organized sets the tone for daily classroom life.  This year, I’m feeling ready!

How about you?
How much time do you focus on planning or other ‘classroom stuff’ during summer vacation?

I’m thrilled to be starting the school year AT school/ON campus this year… nothing else like it in this business.

Have a great school year, teaching friends.  And if you’re looking for a new resource, here are a few of my go-to favorites ~ definitely worth a click!

Lots of ‘Ed 411’ across the Web…..

Happy School Year!


Board Games: Tapping into Word Play

I introduced Word Play Wednesday to my students in early December, a few weeks after my new classes were formed and students transferred in from other Reading classes or from other electives.

Finding ways to engage students who were transferred ‘against their will’ proved challenging, but word games helped break the ice.

On his very first try, a student puts ‘courage’ on the board, but only after considering courageous.
Well done!

I quickly learned (much to my surprise) that many of my students had never played Scrabble before, an age-old game for those of us over 30!  In fact, many students in my classes had never played a board game until they landed in Room 405.  Now, they beg to play each week. I believe Dr. Marzano would agree – students are finding success through courage to try new things.

Are games part of your curriculum?

5 Ways to Build Authentic Reading and Writing Into Any Class

Why do you read? 


Chances are pretty good your answer goes something like this:

  • I don’t read much.
  • I don’t like to read.
  • I like to read, but don’t have time.

Or, if you’re a reader, your answer might be more like this:

  • To escape.
  • To learn new stuff.
  • To keep up with the world.
  • For my work.
  • I read to my kids/grandkids.
  • I read to my students.

Recently, while visiting blogs discovered via Twitter, I ran across a great post from Heidi at 21st Century Classroom, titled Blogging Helps Me Understand Reading, in which she talks about authentic reading and writing.

She says,

“If you were to ask teachers to list their priorities in the classroom, the teaching of reading would most likely be near the top of that list. Developing good readers is what we do.  This would be closely followed by the teaching of writing. Reading and writing are the foundations upon which our instruction lie.”

She adds, “Most teachers that I know are passionate readers.  There are not many, however, who are also writers…..”

Being a literacy educator who also facilitates professional development and is a lifelong reader and writer, I was hooked.

Heidi  shares her insights into how creating a blog has changed her understanding of the process of reading:

“One idea that I thought I understood before beginning this blog is that readers create meaning as they read, that the text has no inherent meaning except that created by the reader. Intellectually it made sense and I taught with that in mind… I’ve gained new insight…. What is interesting is how readers interpret my blog …..I get this now in a way that I didn’t before.”

Wow! The bells were going off in my head as I read Heidi’s words… for a few reasons:

First, I was intrigued by the idea of blogging affecting a teacher’s instructional perspective.  I’m always looking for ideas related to educators’ professional development (what can we do to  improve our  instruction??), and with so much misunderstanding of social media and Web 2.0 tools, school districts often deny access to blogs on their servers to protect their students. Understandable, but short-sighted?

Since a typical teacher’s school day is hectic from start to finish, then they head off to do a gazillion other things from coaching to parenting to classes to keep up their certification, to grocery shopping, to (maybe) meeting up with friends, to probably grading papers, well, you get the idea … the last thing most are going to do is go home and get online to write a blog post or read others’.   Why can’t reading/writing a blog post be done during a planning period, since after all, the blogging community can be part of our PLC (Professional Learning Community)?

As Heidi discovered, engaging in authentic reading and writing is a valuable tool for professional development that also offers benefits to students.  When we do things that are real and purposeful, we grow as learners. We engage because we see the value and purpose.  We want to share what we’ve learned (with colleagues and students.)   Imagine that!

Another reason Heidi’s words caught my attention:

Our experiences (or perspectives??) with fellow teachers are clearly very different.


As a middle/high school and college-level remedial reading instructor and a staff developer/teacher-mentor, I have spent my entire career trying to convince content area teachers why and how we all need to build the process of reading into our classes, regardless of content.  In fact, after seventeen years in education, I still hear these words from teachers *all*the*time* …

“I’m not a reading teacher. I don’t want to teach reading.”


Okay, so you don’t want to be a reading teacher.

I get that.

But what if (just hear me out for a minute….)

we all built a little authentic reading and writing into our classes?

While supporting hundreds of students on the road to more authentic reading and writing, and some of their teachers, too, I’ve watched students not only improve their comprehension (make meaning out of the text) along the way, but also discover:

  • they really do like to read ~ if it’s something they’re interested in
  • reading is necessary to function in daily life ~ in and out of school, and for many ~ at work
  • that it doesn’t have to be a battle to get the reading done
  • different kinds of reading = different kinds of focus (purpose drives path: fast vs. slow, loosely vs. closely, testing/studying vs. pleasure)
A few tips for creating authentic reading and writing in your classes:

time1.   Build time in for Open Reading:  We like to read our own stuff, right? The things we find interesting? Not just things that are required for work or a class we’re taking. Students are no different! Build 10 minutes into a class period OR (I know time is super-tight on a 6 or 7-period schedule) plan 30 minutes one day a week into your weekly lesson plans.  It takes practice for everyone to actually just sit and read during this time (including the teacher!), but it’s possible. Suggestion:  Start in small increments to acclimate everyone to reading for extended periods of time.  I typically start with 15 minutes and monitor students’ body language for tolerance.  Add five minutes at a time.    Eventually, you and your students will be wondering why you waited so long to do this!  Want to add authentic writing? Ask students to write a short note to a friend with 1 – 2 sentences about what they read and how it made them feel or think, such as:

“Dear Joey, Today I read an article in Car and Driver magazine called ‘Tires: Which  Ones are Best,’ and it made me think about that cool car I’m going to build with my dad this summer. I’m wondering if the ___ tires would be better than the ___ ones?” 

Give students a list of prompts and ask them to choose the one that works best for them this time.  For example:

  • It made me think about…
  • It reminded me of ….
  • I wonder…
  • I feel …
  • I agree with ….
  • I disagree with ….
  • I predict…..

These are just a few reading response prompts. There are lots of them online.  *Caution:  Don’t overwhelm students with too many prompts from which to choose. They will spend their time deciding instead of writing, especially when they’re still learning this writing process.  Ask students to exchange notes with a friend.  Then, collect them as Exit Tickets (formative assessment) as students exit your class for the day.


book reviews2.   Online book reviews: My students did this before “Web 2.0” existed (I’m dating myself!), and book reviews were one of the few online tools for sharing content. Creating an account on sites such as,, or gives readers a place to share their thoughts about what they read and teaches them how to analyze, evaluate and synthesize.  Can you say ‘critical thinking while having fun’??  My middle and high school students loved this!



3.   Professional journals/magazines: Do you teach a technical class?  Do you read things related to your profession?  Invite students to read about your course content.  For example in my current role in Career and Technical Education, our teachers teach gaming, culinary operations, early childhood education, health and dental sciences, business applications, pharmaceutical tech, etc…. I’m betting most students do not read professional journals and magazines related to these professions when they’re at home. Why not build time in to your class and make these resources available to them?  Then, how about writing a short letter to a potential classmate who’s thinking about taking the class?  Authentic. Interesting. Purposeful.  (*and excellent marketing for student recruitment!)  Not sure how to fund those subscriptions or how to order? Your media specialist is a master and always willing to help!


4.   Real World Reading:  This can be built into nearly any content area.  Build a lesson plan around reasons why we read & write in our daily lives:  job applications, memos, text messages, e-mail, notes to friends, parents or children, reading prescription bottles, road signs, and labels. I’m sure you can think lots more ‘real reasons’ we read.  Ask students what they read in their daily lives. Build activities with purposeful discussion. Working with older students? Have them bring applications (work, school, financial aid, etc…) in to class for review, discussion, and how-to ideas. Maybe your students do the cooking at home because a single parent is working? Can you support them (and their classmates) in how to read a recipe, including measurements and directions?



5.   Read and write on educational blogs and websites: If you’re fortunate to be in a district that doesn’t block access to online content, then introduce your students to ‘the good stuff,’ and teach them how to evaluate online content. Makes for great discussion, reading, and writing.  A couple of favorite student-oriented resources:, and Of course, there are dozens more, but these come to mind.  What are your favorites you share with fellow teachers?


This I Believe

Are you a classroom teacher/instructor/professor?  What does authentic reading and writing look and sound like in your classes?  Is it time to build more in?  Do you have ideas to share? Would love to hear from you.

Are you a parent/grandparent?  What’s happening in your children’s classes?  How do you know?  Feel free to share this post with their teachers.  Chances are, if we’re talking about elementary-age children, authentic literacy is happening. However… if the ‘wee ones’ are in middle or high school (or beyond), chances are much slimmer than their elementary counterparts….


Thanks for stopping by!

~ Robin

Social Media: Are You Creating or Cringing?

Technology continues to advance.

Students’ learning continues to evolve with technology.

Social Media Icons

 Is your instruction evolving, too?  

 What do you think when you read the phrase Social Media?  Does it spark your creativity or serve up a hefty helping of uncertainty?

Social media wasn’t what it is today when I was still in the classroom full-time.  We weren’t tweeting and updating our status by the millions…. yet.  I often think about how much fun it would have been to have all the social media tools when I was still working with high school students in the classroom every day.

Now, I try to incorporate social media  into training and coaching sessions, building communities of  learners online and  in  person, but before I knew much about it, I was a bit nervous about using social media…..

  • What about privacy?
  • How do I learn the technical stuff?
  • Who’s reading what I write?
  • How do you communicate with students?
  • How do you engage them?
  • What are other highly effective educators doing?
  • How do/could I use Social Media?

These are questions I often ask myself ~ to stay current and learn new things from like-minded colleagues.

I recently saw a tweet from @edudemic about social media, and of course, jumped over to read more.  I found not only a post about a new social media resource for teachers but also  a great site chock full of 411 for educators.   Score! 

 Are you creating or cringing? 

 You decide.  Then, check out this site [here] to add to your instructional toolbox.