Saturday, November 26, 2011

Join Me on Corkboard Connections!

Last month I started a brand new blog called Corkboard Connections, and I wanted to tell you a little about it. I've been blogging sporadically on Laura's Voice for several years but I wanted something a little different - a fun blog where I could quickly dash off a post without worrying about every word. Because I'm such a perfectionist, every blog post on Laura's Voice took me hours to compose, almost as if I were writing an article for a magazine. First there was a written draft, then a typed draft, then the revision process .... it was way too much work and not nearly enough fun!

So I started Corkboard Connections and immediately loved being able to spontaneously write about a teaching tip, a book review, a lesson idea, an addition to my free online File Cabinet, or whatever was on my mind. I've really enjoyed sharing my teaching strategies there and hearing from other educators. In fact, I'm enjoying it so much that I probably won't be posting a lot of messages to Laura's Voice anymore so I thought it was time to let you know.

Please take a look at my new Corkboard Connections blog and if you like what you see, join me there! You can follow the blog by RSS feed or better yet, by email. I follow several blogs myself by email and I enjoy having the content delivered right to my inbox. See you there!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Out with SSR - In with Reading Workshop!

Remember when SSR was popular? Sustained Silent Reading was implemented in schools across the country, and it was based on the belief that the best way to improve reading skills was to provide uninterrupted time for reading. So for 30 minutes a day, all school activities were suspended as teachers, administrators, students, and even custodians stopped to read. Students were supposed to be inspired to love reading through book choice, time to read, and observing adult reading models. It made perfect sense .... but what appeared to be a wonderful idea in theory didn't always lead to strong reading gains in practice.

Even though I love reading, I wasn't completely surprised when researchers began to question the effectiveness of traditional SSR practices. I strongly believe in giving kids more choice as well as plenty of independent reading time in class, but I believe the old SSR model was weak because of the following assumptions:
  1. If we give students time to read and choice in what they are reading, they will spend the given time reading their chosen book. 
  2. It's more important for teachers to model a love of reading than to work directly with students during independent reading time.
Let's take a closer look at what was REALLY going on during that uninterrupted block of reading time. If you used SSR in your classroom, you may remember looking up from your own book only to notice your students’ eyes wandering and sleepy heads drooped over half-closed books. Big surprise! Many kids weren't reading at all!  Sure, good readers loved SSR and enjoyed having more time to read in class and SSR may have been effective for them. But struggling readers were not improving because they weren't actually reading. Clearly, having time to read and seeing a teacher model reading were not enough to inspire struggling readers to become passionate readers.

So where did we go wrong? I believe the olde SSR model was doomed from the start due to the teacher’s assigned role. Requiring teachers to read silently during SSR was a mistake. Because we were supposed to be reading ourselves, we couldn't confer with students to find out why they weren't reading or to help them find appropriate reading material. We couldn't hold them accountable for their reading or work with them on reading skills. All we could do was read, and that's what we did.

Thankfully, the old sustained silent reading model has all but disappeared. Many educators who recognize the importance of student choice and time to read now embrace a method called reading workshop and use the acronym SSR to mean Self-Selected Reading. On the surface it may look like old SSR model, but the critical difference is the teacher's role. Reading workshop sessions start with a short mini lesson that often includes a favorite read aloud. Then students choose their own books and read silently for at least 30 minutes a day. However, during reading workshop, the teacher uses the self-selected independent reading time to quietly confer with individual students or to conduct small guided reading groups. Literacy centers and basal reading texts are noticeably absent; the power of this program can be attributed to students actively engaged in reading appropriate books for long periods of time. A quick glance around the room reveals that kids ARE actually reading and not just flipping pages or daydreaming. A caring teacher has taken time to help them find appropriate reading material and confers with them on a regular basis, and that makes all the difference. Teachers still model a love of reading, but they are active ambassadors for reading rather than passive consumers of print. They read aloud with enthusiasm, and they take an interest in what their students are reading. In short, they infuse their classrooms with a love of reading, and they create an environment where time to read is treasured.

Why am I so passionate about reading workshop? Perhaps I'm fired up because I saw the power of reading workshop when I was teaching, and I hope to inspire others to embrace this method as well. Not only did my students become better readers, but they learned to find joy in the simple pleasures of reading.  Teaching my students to love reading was a gift that I gave them, a gift that would continue to impact their futures long after they left my classroom. What could be more rewarding?

If you would like more information on reading workshop, you can begin your journey by visiting the Reading Workshop page on my Teaching Resources website. You'll find a list of recommended books, a free webinar recording, helpful printables, and links to online resources. If you love reading and are frustrated with your current reading program, jump in and give reading workshop a try! I can promise that you'll never regret it!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Power of Print

Yesterday was an exciting day for me! The Fed Ex truck pulled up while I was eating breakfast and delivered 3 heavy boxes. My newly published book, Laura Candler's PowerReading Workshop: A Step-by-Step Guide had arrived! This book was published last year in ebook form as Empowering Readers: A Quick Start Guide to Reading Workshop, but it was revised and updated in 2011 and given a new name. Seeing it in print for the first time was a special moment for me.

What is it about a print version of a book that makes it seem so much more real than an ebook? Is it the fact that I grew up as a voracious reader and constantly had a book in my hands? Perhaps the sensation of holding a physical book is similar to the "comfort food" feeling of eating forbidden homemade treats I once enjoyed. Print books recall those happy childhood years I spent discovering the joys of reading.

Don't get me wrong - I'm a huge fan of ebooks - I love the fact that they don't take up space on my shelf and I don't lose them. I've been writing ebooks for the last 3 years and I've been purchasing them longer than that, so I obviously see the value in them. In fact, Power Reading Workshop is available in digital form because ebooks are so darned convenient! But there's still something about a print book that grabs me. I wonder if children born today will have the same affinity for print books? Somehow I think not. Their "comfort book" feeling will be related to holding an eReader of some sort!

As I hold my first print first copy of Power Reading Workshop, I'm filled with gratitude for the many inspiring books that convinced me to try reading workshop, books like Steven Layne's Igniting a Passion for Reading and Donalyn Miller's The Book Whisperer. I'm also grateful for the teachers who field-tested the strategies in Power Reading Workshop with their students and helped me fine-tune the program.

As an avid reader myself, it saddens me that many of today's kids haven't discovered the joys of reading. So when I discovered the power of this approach a few years ago, I knew I had to share with others, especially upper elementary teachers like myself, teachers who would appreciate step-by-step directions for implementing reading workshop.  I set up a discussion group called Empowering Readers to help me tweak the process, and I'm indebted to those teachers for the terrific ideas they shared and the solid advice they gave me. Now that many of them have wrapped up a year of reading workshop, it's been extremely gratifying to read the success stories that have been sent to the group - stories of kids who love to read AND who have made tremendous growth on state reading tests.

Reading Workshop really does work! The method works when kids are reading print books, and it will work just fine when print books no longer exist. But in the meantime, I'll treasure my very first print copy of Power Reading Workshop!

Note: If you would like to learn more about this approach, I invite you to join me in a webinar on reading workshop to be held July 21st. Visit my webinar page on Teaching Resources for more information and to register.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Reading the Educational River

Yesterday my husband Marco and I ventured out before the heat of the day to kayak a quiet stretch of the Lumber River.  It’s a beautiful, shady river that winds its way through rural North Carolina, and the current is swift enough to offer a challenge without being dangerous.

One thing I love about kayaking is that within moments of sliding my kayak into the water, my stress levels drop to zero and my creative energies begin to flow. There’s something about the quiet stillness of the morning and the water swirling around my paddle that frees my thoughts to wander. 

Yesterday I reflected on how each kayaking trip is a new adventure. After heavy rains, the water is high and flows over every sandbar, stump, or fallen log. Kayaking in high water takes energy, but it’s not difficult to make progress, even padding upstream.

However, when the water is low, navigating the river takes skill and finesse rather than muscle power. You have to work hard, but it’s a different kind of work. You’ve got to read the river and anticipate obstacles lurking beneath the surface. It’s trickier, but successfully navigating the river when it’s low is far more interesting and rewarding than when the water is high.  

As I paddled along yesterday, my thoughts began meandering like the lazy river. Always seeking connections, I reflected on how kayaking is like teaching. When the educational funding flows freely and our students are motivated, we have to work hard but it’s not difficult to make progress. If we put in the time and energy, we’ll see results.

Not so in a down economy or when we have difficult students. When the money isn't flowing or we lack support and resources, the challenges are much greater. Working harder won't necessarily yield results - we have to "read the river" to figure out what our students need and how to make sure their needs are met. Creative thinking trumps time and energy when times are tough. Making progress is more difficult, but it's also more rewarding.

As I pondered the mysteries of teaching and kayaking, my thoughts drifted to my own teaching career. Last September, after 29 years of teaching, I retired from the classroom with plans to return full time this August. I love working with kids and wasn't ready to retire for good, but I was overwhelmed in my roles as teacher, author, and webmaster of Teaching Resources.

Unfortunately, due to the current economic situation, it looks like I won't be returning to the classroom this fall as planned. I have mixed feelings about this turn of events because I really miss working directly with students. However, I've "read my own river" and the signs are pretty clear for the 2011 - 2012 school year. 

I believe that one day I'll be back in the classroom, but for now I'll focus on making a difference in other ways. I have to admit that I'll have more time to create new teaching resources, and I'll have time to collaborate with educators through webinars and workshops. I'll be able to finish my current book project and start a new one. I'm an avid reader, so I'll definitely devote more time to my neglected Kindle library. Best of all, Marco and I will have a little more time for kayaking! Life is good!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Testing's Over - Now What?

Keeping kids motivated and on task at the end of the year is challenging at best, especially after state tests are over. In fact, the more we prep kids for tests, the harder it is to keep kids on task after testing ends. Yet keeping kids motivated at this time of year is actually much easier than you might think. Since kids are more chatty and restless right now, it’s just a matter of funneling that energy into something constructive. Here are 12 effective strategies to turn students' end-of-the-year energy into instructional success.

Each of the suggestions below is meant to spark your creativity rather than to provide detailed instructions. If you’re not already familiar with the strategy, you may need to do a little more research before you begin. To save you time, I’ve included links to helpful online resources from my Teaching Resources website and around the web.

Learning Centers
One of the easiest ways to keep kids on task is to create some simple learning centers and allow students to rotate through the activities with a partner. If you haven't used learning centers before, you might be surprised at how easy they are to implement. You’ll find ideas and strategies on my learning center page.

Literature Circles If your students are bored by reading a basal text or doing test prep worksheets, they will definitely enjoy Literature Circles. The easiest way to get started is with Classroom Book Clubs, a relaxed and fun method that’s perfect for the end of the year. You can find loads of Literature Circles strategies on my website.

Class Scrapbooks
Creating a class scrapbook is a terrific way to wrap up the school year. Let each student design his or her own special page. The front of the page can include their name, a photo, illustrations, and other personal touches. Have each student write you a letter about the school year and glue it onto the back of his or her page. Add a student-created cover, laminate all pages, and bind the finished product with plastic comb binding. 

Cooperative Learning
Cooperative learning activities are naturally motivating to students. Being able to discuss ideas and interact with other students is a sure-fire strategy for keeping kids involved. The key is to establish clear guidelines for classroom management so the fun doesn’t become chaotic.

Read Aloud Marathons
There never seems to be enough time to read aloud during the school year, so it’s wonderful to have more freedom to do so after the pressures of testing are over. Instead of reading just 10 minutes a day, I enjoy spending 30 minutes or more sharing great books with my kids. I recently asked teachers on Facebook to share their favorite read-alouds for the last month of school, and over 50 people responded. Read the complete list and add your own suggestions.

Class Newsletters
Involve the whole class in this meaningful writing activity, and everyone will end up with a treasured record of your school year. Start by brainstorming all the special events that have occurred throughout the year, and then ask each student to write about one of the events. Select a few students to serve as editors who compile all of the stories into one newspaper. Add digital photos, scanned artwork, quotes about the school year, awards and accomplishments – the list is endless! To conserve paper, produce the newsletter in digital form and email it to parents. Be sure to print one or two copies for students to share in the classroom.

Fun Friday
A weekly incentive can work wonders to keep kids on task at the end of the year. Try to involve at least three teachers on your grade level in this weekly activity. Set aside a 30-minute block of time on Friday for “Fun Friday.” Each teacher signs up to host a different activity: Inside Games, Outside Play, or Study Hall.  In order to participate in Fun Friday, students must complete all homework and other assignments for the week. Those who don’t do their work spend the time in Study Hall, while the others can choose between Outside Play and Inside Games. You can find a Fun Friday sign-up sheet to use with this activity on my Odds N Ends page.

Scrabble Tournaments
What could be more fun than a board game tournament that’s educational as well as exciting? Many families have Scrabble boards in their closets that they can lend to your class, and setting up a tournament is easy. You can find complete Scrabble Tournament directions and printables for the event on my Odds N Ends page.

Outside Learning
When the weather turns warm and sunny, everyone longs to be outside. Many activities like reading, writing poetry, doing science experiments, or playing math games can be taken outside. Ask students to bring beach blankets or towels for these special times. Even a few minutes spent outside for a read-aloud session can offer a quick cure for the end-of-the-year blues.

Team Challenges
From Egg Drop Challenges to Tower Building, team challenges motivate students to think creatively and work together in order to solve a task. You can find many such activities that integrate math and science at the AIMS Education Foundation website. One of my favorites is to have kids create Puff Mobiles from straws, large wooden beads, and paper. Go to their website at and search for the Puff Mobiles activity. You can also find these types of activities at the NC Science Olympiad website.

Ed Tech & Online Learning Games
I’m amazed at the number of free and inexpensive online learning games available. If you have a computer in your classroom, you have access to all sorts of online games such as the skill races at Arcademic Skill Builders or the stories read aloud on StoryLine Online. I’ve also begun to research iPad and iPod apps for kids, and I’m excited at what’s already available. Take a look at the 11-page alphabetical list of educational apps compiled by a group of teachers in North Carolina. You can also check out 20 Amazing iPad Apps for Educators or Online Learning Games Kids Love.

Multimedia Projects
Challenge your students to work alone or in teams to create multi-media presentations. Possible topics include anything from a recap of the school year to their dreams for the future. If you think "multi-media" means PowerPoint, think again. Check out Prezi, Animoto, and Slideshare for some exciting alternatives. 

With these strategies, learning is still the name of the game, but the learning goes far beyond tested skills. Your students will discover hidden talents and have fun doing so. Furthermore, the end of the year will become a time to celebrate, a time to share great memories of special times together. So what’s your favorite activity to keep students motivated at the end of the year?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Spreading the Word about Reading Workshop

Over a year ago I began writing my book, Empowering Readers: A Quick Start Guide to Reading Workshop, and I have some exciting news to share. It's now available in digital form, but it will soon be available in print as well! I love the reading workshop approach, and I wrote the book to spread the word and to provide an easy, step-by-step guide to this method. 

I had dreamed of having Empowering Readers published in print to reach a larger audience, and now it looks like that dream is going to come true! I just signed a deal with Raphel Marketing to publish the book in soft cover form, and I know the project is in excellent hands. The publisher wants to reformat the book, update its image, and give it a new cover. The plan includes me adding about 50 pages of brand new content to the existing manuscript. It’s actually going to be like two books in one because the new material is the Literacy Concepts Organizers ebook that I’m writing now. 

The revised print version of Empowering Readers will be organized into two parts. Part I will focus on how to implement the Reading Workshop approach, and Part II will consist of over a dozen graphic organizers and foldables to be used in reading mini-lessons. If you already own Empowering Readers, don’t worry. The Literacy Concept Organizers will be available as a separate ebook and the entire print version of Empowering Readers will be available for half price to those who have already purchased the digital version.

If you’ve followed my blogs and read my newsletters over the last few years, you’ll know that I love to collaborate with other educators as I create new materials. For the next few weeks, I’ll be working with the members of the Empowering Readers Learning Community as I write Literacy Concept Organizers. They will have full access to the new material and the final digital version. I’ll be asking for feedback from this group every step of the way. In fact, within a few days I should have a whole packet of graphic organizers to upload to the member website. If you would like to be a part of this project, take a moment to read about Empowering Readers Learning Community and how you can get involved. (

I’ll keep you informed about any news related to this project. The target date for the release of the book is July 1, just in time for my Summer Workshop Extravaganza! I'm excited to think that my book will now be available in many places online and in book stores, places where it can found by teachers who want to inspire their students with a love for reading.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Writing Poetry From the Inside Out

What month could be more perfect than April for celebrating poetry? There’s something about the warmer weather, emerging new life, and rain-washed world that invites one to wander outside and find a quiet place to write. I can’t remember how or when I first learned to write poetry, but from that moment on, I found it to be a perfect way to express my feelings. I love the way a poem can capture emotions on paper, becoming powerful word-snapshots of everyday life.  Poetry helped me as a teen to deal with my struggles and disappointments, as well as to celebrate my successes and accomplishments. From the trauma of moving to another state in ninth grade to the excitement of my first prom, poetry helped me capture it all on paper.  Later, poetry enabled me to appreciate the beauty and majesty of the Earth, helping to put both my problems and my accomplishments into perspective. 

As a teacher, I quickly discovered how easy it was to teach children and teens to write powerful poetry. Some of my best student poets have been those who previously hated writing! In fact, students with learning disabilities often outshine their peers in this area. They love the freedom to write anything and break all the rules, and after I get them started with a few examples, their words just seem to flow. What they write is almost magical. 

Teaching poetry comes easily to me because I’ve been writing poetry since childhood. But I also realize that others may not be as comfortable with this subject. Last week, in honor of Poetry Month, I decided to write out my strategies for teaching poetry to students. As I worked through the lessons, I created graphic organizers and examples to make the whole process really easy to implement. The result was a 26-page mini pack called Writing Powerful Poetry: Using Imagery to Unlock Creativity. You can find this resource and others on the Poetry Page of my Teaching Resources website. On this page you’ll find links to poetry websites, two multimedia poetry project ideas, and information about great books for teaching poetry. 

If you’ve never taught your students to write free-verse poetry, you’re in for a treat. You’ll be amazed at how powerful their writing can be. Just a few days ago, Merideth Fisher wrote to me that she’s been using similar strategies with her students. In her own words, “By encouraging my students to write from “the inside out" rather from the "outside in," the kids' writing has been AMAZING!!! I'll never go back to teaching formulated poetry again.  I've literally been reduced to tears when hearing some of the children's heart-felt writing.” I agree, Merideth. I couldn’t have said it better myself!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Reading Workshop Made Easy

As an avid reader, I’ve been interested in the Reading Workshop approach for years. How could I not be enthralled with the concept? I loved the thought of my students all choosing their own books, curling up in cozy spots, and reading to their hearts content.

But for some reason, I procrastinated. I guess the whole thing seemed too good to be true! Wasn't this just like SSR, and didn't studies show that SSR was not effective? How could students become better readers when everyone was reading something different? Truthfully, I was also confused about the day-to-day details of implementation. Honestly, I just wanted someone to tell me what to do to get started.

I ‘d been reading a variety of inspirational books on reading workshop, but sometimes I just felt overwhelmed with by the concept. The devil is in the details, as they say, and I wanted some details! Then I read The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller and Igniting a Passion for Reading by Steven Layne, and I vowed to give it a try! I realized that there was much more to reading workshop than sustained silent reading, but I figured I’d work out the details along the way. I used some of the ideas that I had read, but I also adapted some of the strategies to fit my own needs. After a few weeks, things just seemed to fall into place.

What happened next was amazing! Almost magically, my students began to love reading, and I could tell they were becoming better readers. I loved conferring with my kids individually about what they were reading, and I enjoyed our mini-lessons. They were making terrific progress on our quarterly assessments, and I realized that the reading workshop approach really could deliver on its promise.

I’ve always enjoyed sharing ideas that work for me, and my specialty is making powerful teaching strategies seem easy. Despite all the inspiring books on reading workshop, there didn’t seem to be a simple step-by-step guide for people like me who wanted help getting started. So I went back through my notes to remember what I had done, and I began to write the book that became Empowering Readers: A Quick Start Guide to Reading Workshop. I wrote an exact plan for each of the first 10 days as well as a chapter on how to take reading workshop to the next level with a series of instructional “power tools.” Then I enlisted the help of dozens of teachers who began using the strategies in their classrooms. They offered feedback about what was working and what needed fixing. I was inspired on a daily basis by the ideas shared by the Empowering Readers Learning Community!

Now, after more than a year of writing and rewriting, I’m excited to announce that Empowering Readers is finally complete! I recently asked the teachers who’ve been using these strategies to share some of their successes with me, and I was moved by the stories I received from them. I knew that the reading workshop approach worked for my students, but it was tremendously gratifying to read how empowering the program was to other students. Kids who didn’t like to read before now talk about books at home? ELL students actually cheer when they are given extra reading time? Something special is happening, and that something special is a new crop of kids discovering the joy of reading.

If you need convincing about the effectiveness of the reading workshop approach, I invite you to read these Success Stories for yourself. Do you use the reading workshop approach in your classroom? If so, please share your own success story with me!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year!

Note: Would you like to hear a podcast of this blog post? If so, click here for the podcast version or read my message below.

Happy New Year! The past year has been wonderful for me, and I’m excited to see what 2011 has in store! Each year is more phenomenal than the one before, so this one is bound to be terrific! Last January I was in the classroom and had no idea that I would be taking a year off to explore new horizons, so who knows what this year will bring?

When I started my blog, I decided to call it “Laura’s Voice” because I hoped it would be a way to share my thoughts and views. Ironically, up until now, most teachers who knew me through the internet had never even heard my voice!

So it seems fitting to start 2011 by sharing my message using my real voice in my very first podcast. I imagine that this will prove to be just a baby step for me because I’m already making plans to add video clips, live online training, screencasts, and more to the Teaching Resources site.

Thinking back on 2010, one of the most important lessons I learned was about the power of gratitude. I discovered that gratitude is an amazing thing – it not only has the power to change our own lives, but it can have a tremendous impact on others. When we choose to look for things that please us and we express appreciation for those things, we magically find our lives filled with even more things to appreciate! When we share our appreciation with others, we have the power to lift their spirits and help them see their own potential. This is true in the classroom as well as in our personal lives. Gratitude truly does have the power to transform.

So what am I thankful for this first day of 2011? The entire list would fill dozens of pages, so in the interest of time and space, I’ll mention just a few.

First of all, I appreciate the educators who are a part of my online community. You share your ideas and insights with me through email, in discussion groups, and on Facebook. You continue to inspire me with your creativity, dedication, and generosity. It’s through you that I’ve learned about the web 2.0 tools that will allow me to connect and collaborate with people in ways I never dreamed possible. As an avid reader, I’m also grateful for the books you’ve shared with me, books that have renewed my passion for teaching, learning, and living.

So what’s my new year’s resolution? It’s simply to spend more time appreciating all that’s good in my life and to take time to express my gratitude to others. With all that I have to be thankful for, I’m thinking that this will be one of the few resolutions that I actually keep!

What do you most appreciate about your life in 2010? What most excites you about the coming year? As always, I look forward to your responses!