Tag Archives: #reading

A Game Changer

Take Your Best Shot at Night Driving and go Varoomaloom Zoom
taking it Strong to the Hoop, Hoop Genius, and be a Game Changer.

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Recently, I had the opportunity to hear author John Coy speak to the Southwest Minnesota Reading Council in New Ulm, Minnesota on the campus of Martin Luther College. Coy shared about his experiences with writing books. With being an author of numerous books, one would think Coy’s experiences have been nothing but positive and easy.  This wasn’t necessarily the case, however.  Coy talked about his many failures on the road to success.

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Coy grew up being a reader, but had not really given the idea of becoming an author any thought.  It was not something that was considered an opportunity for him.  Once he discovered writing through a book writing workshop offered at the Loft in Minneapolis, he was inspired to author books for children and to get them reading.

Coy shared, “If you get books that address the genuine interest of the kid, it will get them reading.” He found an interest – sports!
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One of his books he highlighted was Game Changer. The book takes place in a segregated North Carolina in 1944.

In the morning on Sunday, March 12, 1944, a group of basketball players from the Duke University Medical School thought they were the best in the state and headed across town in Durham, NC. They knew they were playing a basketball game, but didn’t know who they were playing against. The players reached the gym to find the starting 5 of the North Carolina College of Negroes. The Eagles had a 19-1 record under their coach, John McLendon. Because of segregation, they were not allowed to play against white teams. That day the Eagles were going to break that law. Coach McLendon learned basketball from James Naismith, the gym teacher who created basketball. The game between the Eagles and Duke didn’t start so great with both teams not playing well. The Duke team took the lead at first, and then the Eagles took over. The final scores was Duke 44 to Eagles 88!  They played another game, but mixed it up, and it was shirts versus skins this time.
“Nineteen years before Dr. Kings ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, and three years before Jackie Robinson broke the color line in the MLB, black and white players worked together as teammates in an illegal game in a segregated North Carolina.  These players had seen the future, but it would take time for everybody else to see it.” It wasn’t until 22 years later that Texas Western started 5 black players against Kentucky for the national championship and won.  The era of segregated big-time college basketball was ending.  Years later, John McLendon, who was inducted into the basketball Hall of Fame for his phenomenal coaching career, said, “I just wanted to further the idea that we all played basketball, that we all played it well, and that we should be playing it together.”  Today, people don’t think twice about players of different skin colors.  It took courage for them to play together. “Coach John McLendon and those brave players who rose to the challenge in the secret game were years ahead of their time.”

The Game Changer summary was composed by guest blogger Jonah Vierstraete, age 11 and a just newly graduated fifth grade student.

For his research, Coy talked with 5th graders just like Jonah about their experiences. The 5th grade classes suggested changes on his novels. Sometimes the feedback was on 1 chapter, 6 chapters, or all 53 chapters of the book; it was their choice. The feedback resulted in more than 200 changes in his 4 for 4 series, including: Top of the Order, Love of the Game, Eyes on the Goal, and Take Your Best Shot.

Aside from his former fifth grade status just like Coy’s middle level, 4 for 4 series, it was appropriate to ask Jonah to guest blog with us because last year he selected John Coy’s, Take Your Best Shot, for his birthday book at school.  At Jonah’s school, the birthday boy or girl can select a book to purchase in his or her own birthday honor, and have his or her name and birthday added to the inside cover; he or she gets to be the first to check out the book and then share it with others.  It’s a fun opportunity for students, which they enjoy.

It’s not all fun and games though…writing is about taking risks.  Coy shared about his rejection letters and learning patience while waiting for his books to be published (about six years for a picture book).  There is give and take needed when working with a publisher and illustrator.  Sometimes things don’t go the way they are expected.  That is life.

Coy’s stories consist of fiction and non-fiction works.  Much of his fiction storylines are tailored around sports.  He also writes about sports (and other topics) in his non-fiction writing.

The thing about non-fiction is that we just want some good stories. The new non-fiction is like good fiction with the same things we enjoy about fiction – interesting openings, maintaining the elements of a storyline, and creative characters.

BLOG 5.25.16 Game Changer3An example of non-fiction work aside from the Game Changer is Their Great Gift. In collaboration with illustrator Wing Young Hwie, Coy was asked by the editor to write the story to match the pictures of immigrant families. The story of Hwie’s grandmother’s arrival to the United States is shared at the end of the story. It is about how her story changed Hwie’s story.  Likewise, Coy shared his own experience of attending college and the impact it had on his own life.  He estimated that there is approximately half a million dollars difference between the earnings from a high school degree and college degree in a lifetime. This story is an example of how we can change are own lives in a big way, but more importantly impact the lives of those to come.

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Coy leaves us with a final thought about writing.  “There is a lag time between what we need and what we have.”  John tells students, “You might have to be the one to write them.”  There is an author in all of us; we just need to tell our story.


Check out www.johncoy.com for more details on Coy’s work.
Check back to www.educonnections.org for more of Jonah’s works in the future. 🙂

Thanks, @johncoy23, for the inspiration for this week’s blog – and for inspiring the next generation of readers and writers.

Stay Calm & Write On!
Profs Dr. Wendy & Dr. V.

How to Accessorize Your Staff Meetings with Children’s Books



It is back to school time. A new beginning. A time to come together as a team. Elementary principals from all corners of the United States are preparing what they will say to their staff when they return. Planning that important first-day-back staff gathering can be a challenge.

Any of you principals use children’s books to accessorize that staff meeting? May we suggest that you give these delightful books a try? If they don’t seem to work, ditch them. (…and then it wasn’t us who suggested them. 🙂 ) If the lovely books do seem to bring home an important point, by all means add a title to the agenda now and then.

Phillips and Wong (2010) advised us to “think of literacy as a spine; it holds everything together.” Holding it together at the beginning of the year and all year long seems like a great plan to us.

Here are a few titles that we used when we were elementary principals, and also a few titles shared with us by other administrators, and also how they used those children’s books in their meetings. We hope they bring a little ‘bling’ to your staff meetings – because really, who doesn’t like a little bling now and then?! 🙂

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The Crayon Box that Talked by Shane DeRolf –“I used this book at the beginning of the year with my staff to remind them that we all play an important role in making the school a place where we all need to work together.” ~Pat W., Superintendent

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 Hooray for Diffendoofer Day by Dr. Seuss –“I read this book at the all-school assembly at the beginning of the year and changed the names in the book to the names of my staff which allowed for some laughter from the students and faculty.” ~Dr. Wendy C.S., former principal

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Look out Kindergarten, Here I Come by Nancy Carlson –“I used this book for kindergarten round up in the spring and for preparing my own children for school.” ~Dr. Sonya V., former principal and parent-in-training

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 Oh, the Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss – “I read this book at the end of one of my staff meetings to celebrate the fact that we met AYP.” ~Jason S., principal

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Testing Miss Malarkey by Judy Finchler – “I read this book the day before grades 3 – 5 take their MCA-II tests.” ~Dr. Connie H., former principal

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 Math Curse by Jon Scieszka & Lane Smith – “Math is our biggest challenge for AYP, so we are brainstorming all possible ways to have our students perform better in math.  Thought that we should start thinking “math” like in the story — just a fun way to bring a point across.” ~Melody T., retired principal

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 Zombies: Evacuate the School by Sara Holbrook – “Use at your back-to-school staff meeting. Read ‘100 Percent Me’ then have each teacher give percentages of who they are. Hang up in the lounge or office. These show how each one of us is unique.” ~Dr. Wendy C.S., former principal

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Pip & Squeak by Kate Duke – “I used this to work on developing relationships in the school and home environments.” ~Dr. Sonya V., former principal and current parent of “my 3 sons”!

Accessorizing adds beauty – it can make an outfit or make a meeting. Just don’t overdo it or it will lose its’ luster. We would LOVE to hear of any children’s literature that you are currently using to adorn your staff meetings or all-school assemblies. Please share them in the comments below with us and others.

We wish you a fabulous year filled with enjoyable reading and lots of bling. 🙂

Stay Calm & Lead On!
Profs Dr. C. & Dr. V.

Summertime…Literacy for Fun

JR reading from the Golden Book collection

Once upon a time the phrase “Reading for fun” was something we said when we talked about leisure reading…for fun.  As we get older with life’s responsibilities and pressures added to our plates, “reading for fun” sometimes is forced into the backseat.  What if we changed the phrase and changed our perspective? How would it impact our kids? Education?  What if we changed it to “literacy for fun” or “literacy for living” or something crazy like that?

There are six literacies that need to be the focus of formal education as well as life learning: listening, speaking, reading, writing, viewing, and visually representing.  What if our focus was on all six of these literacies in everything we do?  For our work? For our learning? For our life?  We want our students, our citizens to be life-long readers, life-long literacy lovers.

What can we do to promote literacy this summer? Below we share a few ideas you can put into action now…or later:

Take a field trip! Go on an adventure! Live the learning experience and then write about it in this simple to make “Little Book.”

Read a book and then see the movie. Compare and contrast it over ice cream, coffee, or another treat of your choice with friends or family. If we were betting women, we’d put money on it that you’ll find the book to be much, much better!

The alphabet game or “I spy” provides ample opportunities to consider literacy…especially when trying to spy that “Q” or “Z” letter while tootling down the road in the car or while sitting in the waiting room at the doctor’s office. Try an “I spy” adjective or adverb style game. You need to see the “description” of an object or how something is happening instead of just identifying the noun/object.

Maybe it is finally time to start that neighborhood book club! Why wait?!

Sonya has three books on her soon-to-start summer reading list (along with the papers from her summer classes of course! 🙂 ) :

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (also coming to theatres this weekend)

Everything I Need to Know I Learned From A Little Golden Book by Diane Muldrow

The Promise of A Pencil: How An Ordinary Person Can Create Extraordinary Change by Adam Braun

Wendy has three books on her soon-to-start summer reading list too (and, since there are no papers for her to read and correct, maybe she will add a fourth or fifth book to her list 🙂 ) :

Teaching Naked by Jose Antonio Bowen (Bet that book title caught your attention!)

Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo

Classroom Habitudes: Teaching Habits & Attitudes for 21st Century Learning by Angela Maiers

What is the most recent book you have read? Tell us!  What is a book that you recommend for “fun?”  Tell us!

Stay Calm & Lead On!
Profs Dr. C. & Dr. V.

Readers Are Leaders

Okay…so they graduated last week and are now ready to conquer the world. Okay…so maybe there is a little time for that for our newly graduated kindergarteners, but what do they need for the next step in their lives? What will they need to be dynamic first graders? READ! Readers are leaders! Here are a few reading ideas that we have used in our teaching careers and reading life (but really—what other kind of life is there?! 🙂 ).


Putting a book into the hands of a kid is a sacred act. #IRA14 @wimpykid

Reader Warren


Here are just a few ideas for our young learners and teacher candidates:

Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst. No matter where we live or what we do, we all will have a bad day now and then. And that’s okay because tomorrow is a new day. Alexander will be coming to the big screen in October!

Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss. This is a great book for rhyming and choral reading with your first-graders. Read it early in the day then serve green scrambled eggs. Visit Seussville.com to fill your toolbox with Dr. Seuss ideas.

Eating the Alphabet by Lois Ehlert. Warning…this appetizing book may leave your first-grader hungry after reading it. One simple way to satisfy this hunger could be to go on a scavenger hunt looking for foods in the newspaper. Find more activities for this cute book at Fabulous First Grade.

Max’s Words by Kate Banks. This is an enjoyable story about Max who collects and organizes words. Have your soon-to-be first graders collect and organize words that they enjoy and then put those words in a book just like Max’s.

Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes by Eric Litwin. The moral of this story… no matter what you step in, just keep on walking along and keep on singing your song because life is good.

Frog and Toad Are Friends by Arnold Lobel. Even though two people may be very different, they can still be friends forever. Follow Frog and Toad on Pinterest.

More books to share with your students: IRA Teachers’ Choices Project shares those great books that reach out and tap us on the shoulder to get our attention as author Chris Van Allsburg illustrates so well for the 2014 Teachers’ Choices.

And just because we LOVE books…here are a few more for you to check out:

The Day the Crayon Quit by Drew Daywalt

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein.

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett

The Dot by Pete Reynolds

Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems

Happy Summer Reading! May you find the sunshine on your back and a book in your hand (and probably sunglasses would be helpful along with a glass of lemonade) this summer! 🙂

Stay Calm & Lead On!
Profs Dr. C. & Dr. V.