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Jul. 12th, 2013

Summer Reading for Teachers:

Summer is when we teachers recharge, research, and plan. Not only do I read for pleasure by catching up on new middle grades and YA books, I also read to learn. When the school year begins in the fall, I will have finished a number of education-related texts, as well as worked on K-12 Curriculum Mapping and Common Core Curriculum alignment for my district. I love being a lifelong learner!

Below are some of the books on my reading list this summer, a few which shaped me as a teacher, and a peek at what I’ll be reading in August.

Understanding by Design, Expanded 2nd Edition by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe
Understanding Design
My principal said, “You must read this book – it is so YOU.” She went on to explain the book’s premise of designing lessons from an end goal and working backward. Since Mrs. Rudolph was so enthusiastic, I knew I had to get a copy. I’m glad I did.

Since working on my National Board Certification, I began looking at learning units this way. I ask myself what I want my students to know and why I want them to know it. Understanding by Design explains how teachers should be goal oriented, intertwine their work with other disciplines or use different strands from the Common Core, and be multidimensional with creating lessons. Throughout my reading, I’ve found so many great quotes about learning and education, as well as ways to strengthen my work in the classroom. It seems as if every few pages I stop and contemplate how the examples apply to me or how I can transpose a sample lesson into my own room.


The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller
Book Whisperer
I’m not sure how many times I’ve read this text…four? Five? Each time, however, I am reinvigorated and encouraged to take the steps needed to help my students on the path of becoming lifelong readers. There is practical advice on how to set up your classroom library, tips on conferencing with students about reading, and ways to streamline your teaching to allow for ample reading. Donalyn is one of the people I follow online, as well, so I can continue to get glimpses inside her reading-centric room.

Next on my list, the follow-up book: Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer’s Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits, also by Donalyn Miller. I can’t wait to read her companion book. Isn’t that what we all want, for our students to become lifelong readers? Donalyn shares strategies to help us teach reading habits.


Real Revision by Kate Messner

Kate worked on this teacher mentor text while we were co-teaching Advanced Creative Writing in our former school. Watching this brilliant educator and award-winning author in practice was as much a learning experience for me as it was for the students. Now you can use revision techniques utilized by children’s authors in your own classroom. When students see the edits done by authors they know, they are more likely to tackle the revisions needed in their own works. Trying various editing techniques help ensure students discover the ones that work best for them, along with building up an arsenal of devices they can utilize when working on future writing pieces.


I Read it, but I Just Don’t Get It by Cris Tovani
Don't Get It
Writing with authority is what you’ll get from Cris Tovani. She is a full-time high school ELA teacher who also previously taught at the elementary level and worked as a reading specialist. When she explains how students make connections while reading and the technique teachers can use to help them increase fluency and comprehension, she knows her subject. Her passion for her work is also evident and the layout of the book is useful, as most chapters contain a bulleted summary at the end for easy reference.

If you are looking for further guidance, Tovani includes reproducible tools at the end of the text. These are great for helping students make connections with their reading.

So What Do They Really Know? By Cris Tovani
The author explores authentic classroom assessments that are practical and real.


A Framework for Understanding Poverty by Ruby Paine
Understanding Poverty
In various studies I’ve found the majority of educators are from middle-class backgrounds. According to Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu, 83% of elementary schools teachers are white, middle-class females. For most of my life I have been middle-class, so those are the societal norms I inherently understand. Ruby Paine opens middle-class educators’ eyes with her (sometimes) controversial book on poverty. When I first read this book a few years ago, it not only helped me understand my husband’s background more clearly, it also made me a more effective teacher. If we already know from Bloom that children need their basics needs met before they can advance, Paine shows us how to successfully deal with poverty issues with empathy. Her questionnaires and examples help educators examine the underlying concerns people dealing with poverty have and how they look at their situation and the world impacting them.

Next on my list: Boys in Poverty: A Framework for Understanding Dropout, also by Paine

Now that you’ve perused my list, what teacher texts are you reading this summer? Which ones shaped you as a teacher? Please share your recommendations!
Happy Reading - Marjorie

Plate Read
Check out my new NORTH CAROLINA license plate!

In Honor of John


The world became a lot less funny this week.

My cousin John lost his hard-fought battle against cancer and died in a Hospice facility in Charleston, WV.

He was one of the most hilarious people I knew and could turn a simple story into one that would make you do one of those laughs where you accidentally honk like a goose or snort like an old mule.

We always joked he was a ghostwriter for Larry the Cable Guy.

Most of them I wouldn’t tell in a church….like the Old-Naked-Guy story or the Stole-A-Beer-And-Buried-It-To-Drink-Later one or the Before-He-Married-Robin-Diarrhea story. That one was my favorite. It didn’t end well and the joke would usually be on John, but he’d tell it anyway, without much prompting.

He’d pull you in with his good ol’ boy drawl, those piercing blue eyes, and the lip he could curl like Elvis. Before you knew it, you’d be begging him to stop – just so you could catch your breath, or wipe the tears from your eyes, or run real fast to the bathroom (for those cousins who have a weak bladder, which thankfully doesn’t include me, but they will remain nameless, but their initials are Trisha.)

He was a gentle soul, a good dad, and a loving husband. He coached his kids’ team, did maintenance on his mom’s house, and would lend a hand when needed to friend and family alike. I don’t think I was ever mad at him, not even once. Not even the time when he mooned us or the time he locked us in the cubby closet.

John was the one who took me to a mountaintop top party one rainy night and we hung out in the back of an abandoned tractor-trailer, listening to the strains of a country song and the rhythm of a clogger dancing up on the roof. A soft rain was falling and we dangled our legs off the back end of the trailer and talked about what we wanted to do when we grew up.

And here we are, all grown up…and he left us too soon.

But tomorrow, after the funeral, when we are all standing around in our pretty black outfits sipping punch, I’ll be thinking of the times he made me laugh until I cried. And I’ll smile and cry at the same time, in honor of John.

New Kid in Town

With my father in the Air Force when I was growing up, I attended many different schools. Two kindergartens, two second grades, two thirds….you get the idea. So I know a little about trying to fit in, figuring out “the rules”, and finding friends.

Tomorrow I have another first. After twelve years at Stafford Middle School in Plattsburgh, NY, I accepted a teaching position in North Carolina. Soon I will teach 7th grade students in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro School District at Culbreth Middle School.

Last Thursday, the other new teachers and I started school early and received such a warm welcome. From the opening gathering with the superintendent to lunch with the principal; from the custodians helping us prepare our rooms to the organized binder filled with information; from the box of supplies prepared for each of us to the gathering with our mentors at the principal’s home, we have been made to feel valued and welcomed.

In the morning, I’ll drive to my new school and meet the entire faculty and staff. Once again I’ll put into practice my “new kid” survival techniques. If you know a new kid or are going to be one yourself this fall, here’s how I do it.

1) Smile – I keep a smile on my face even when I feel nervous, scared, or lonely. It is much easier for others to talk to me if I look approachable.

2) Learn Names – I borrow a yearbook from the previous year, write down names when I’m in meetings, and study the nametags on doors. Then when I talk to people I try to use their name in conversation, as well as use little pneumonic devices to help me.

3) Be Kind – Is there someone who needs help? Appreciate what others do for you.
Give honest compliments. Positive energy is the best kind.

4) Be Open - Let others get to know you. Go outside your comfort zone. Volunteer. Raise your hand. Participate in conversations. Talk.

5) Listen – Pay attention to what other people say. Learn what you can about their lives and hobbies. Take an honest interest in them.

For those of you who are in the same situation as me: Have a great time with your new beginning! I love to explore new places, make new friends, and learn about new ideas. Throw your arms wide open ~ live your life with joy.

Brazil and Its People

Another blog post about Brazil and its people:

Five Things to Love about Brasil (Brazil)

Some photos of my Brazil trip here:
With more to follow!

A Poem


My blogging goal is to put positive stuff out into the world, so at first I hesitated about posting this poem I wrote.
And then I thought....if it makes someone think twice about the children who suffer each day...and then that person makes an effort to be a force of change for a child...well, what is more positive than that?

         The Quiet One
               by Marjorie Light


You stand up there
in the front of the class

thinking you know me,
but you don’t.

Can you see the bruise
on my ribs from the board?
Or the hole in the bottom
of my too-tight sneakers?

I wonder if you can tell
that I haven’t had anything
to eat since yesterday’s
free spaghetti with marinara.

When you yelled about me
not having a pencil and
didn’t do a simple assignment,
know there’s no money for my allowance.

If you see my head nodding
it isn’t ‘cause I don’t like you
or the lesson –  you may not know
my mom never came home last night.

One day last month you stopped
by my desk and said, “Good job.”
I keep hoping you’ll notice again
if you try to get to know me.

Friday Five

"Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts." Winston Churchill

I agree, Mr. Churchill. Here are five things I've learned:


Sometimes life throws things in our way for which we are not prepared. Other times we create our own hurdles. What matters is how you navigate these problems. There is no fault with taking time to consider your is fine if you need time to nurse yourself back to health: spiritual, mental, or physical. Just don't wait too long... Tackle those mountains before you, whether they are ones created by nature or you. Keep climbing upward and marching forward.

Be Safe - no I don't mean "play it safe" but I mean find a retreat. Locate that place that calms your soul - a special chair with a nice reading lamp, the park bench near a fountain, a corner table in a coffee shop with great java and muffin tops, a table in your public library, the front row of your zumba class...we all have spots that make us feel cocooned or alive. Find your haven while you heal; nurture yourself.

Money isn't everything, but it helps. If you have it, share it. Donate to worthy charities, surprise someone deserving, and help a child in need.  When you are bereft, take a closer look at your choices. Trim your life, seek new opportunities, volunteer, and take a chance.

Real friends stick with you, no matter what. They may offer encouragement from afar via email and texts. Real friends ask you to dinner, stop by at work to say hi, invite you for coffee when they know you are down. Trust me, there are plenty of people out there with big enough hearts to add a new friend or two. Keep your heart and your eyes open, there are real friends all around you.


Peace can be yours, learn to be still. Find your center...what is important to you? Use healing time to find your, drawing, dancing, yoga? For me, it was my writing. Let the world around you go on with its noisy self, you learn to love yourself, your talents, your potential. Honor your past, yes, but then let it go..then move forward.....see number one! :-)

Climb, nurture, share, cherish, can do it. I know you can.

Recently my students compiled a list of their favorite books they’d read to share with friends and family. I posted last year’s list and it was viewed many times by relatives wanting gift ideas for teens, librarians, and other teachers. Please feel free to post on FB and spread the news on Twitter. My students would love if you linked here from other blogs, too! Please help us keep track by utilizing this link:

Now, without further ado or delay….drum roll, please….

2011 Trailblazer Book Suggestions

Zack’s Lie and Jack’s Run by Roland Smith
Alex Rider – a series by Anthony Horowitz
Dull Boy by Sarah Cross

Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikkelson

Bone Chiller by Graham McNamee
Eragon by Christopher Paolini (and sequels)
Red Riding Hood by Sarah Blakley-Cartwright
Eighth Grade Bites #1: The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod by Heather Brewer
Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zeven
Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
Percy Jackson and the Last Olympians by Rick Riordan

Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
Heads or Tails and Jack’s Black Book by Jack Gantos
Joey Pigza Swallowed a Key and others by Jack Gantos
The Strange Case of the Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger
Lawn Boy by Gary Paulsen
The Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet by Erin Dionne and Models Don’t Eat Chocolate Cookies

I AM NUMBER FOUR by Pittacus Lore

The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funk. (Higher-level readers)
The Mysterious Benedict Society by Treton Lee Stewart
Wish You Were Dead by Todd Strasser


Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper
The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart
The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z by Kate Messner
Girl, Stolen by April Henry
A Mango Shaped Space AND Heaven Looks a Lot Like the Mall by Wendy Mass
Operation Yes by Sara Lewis Holmes
Pretty Little Liars – Sara Shepard. Full of drama
Schooled by Gordon Korman
Rules by Cynthia Lord
Firegirl by Tony Abbott
Anything But Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin
Waiting for Normal by Leslie Connor

Carter’s Big Break by Brent Crawford
Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli
Nightjohn by Gary Paulsen
Song of the Sparrow by Lisa Ann Sandell

Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Two sequels:
    Catching Fire & Mockingjay
Matched by Ally Condie
The Enemy by Carles Higson

A Child Called It by David Pelzer About child abuse.
Kids Cook by Betty Krofer. Cookbook for kids: tasty/easy

Bone by Jeff Smith.
The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
The Popularity Papers by Amy Ignatow
Rave Master by Hiro Mashima

Authors with many popular books:
P.B. Kerr: The Children of the Lamp - a series
Sara Dessen: Along for the Ride, Lullaby, Someone Like You, Just Listen, The Truth About Forever, Lock and Key
Laurie Halse Anderson: Fever, Chains, Speak, & more
Meg Cabot: Run Away, Airhead, Being Niki, Princess Diaries.
Ellen Hopkins: Novels in verse. Glass, Crank, Burned
Margaret Peterson Haddix: The Shadow Children Series, Double Identity, The Missing, Running Out of Time, & more
Mike Lupica: Bat Boy, Safe at Home, The Big Field, Heat, Travel Team, Miracle on 49th Street, Summer Ball, and others
Darren Shan: The Cirque du Freak series
Eoin Colfer: Artemis Fowl, Airman, & Supernaturalist
Carl Haissen: Flush, Scat, and Hoot
Gary Paulsen: Hatchet, NightJohn, Brian’s Winter, The Haymeadow, Lawn Boy, Soldier’s Heart, and Woods Runner
Ben Mikaelsen: Petey, Touching Spirit Bear, Rescue Josh McGuire, Countdown, and Sparrow Hawk Red
Jerry Spinelli: Milkweed, Crash, Maniac Magee, & Loser

Best Friends

I wish that everyone could have friends like mine! My writing career has flourished because of them. Kate Messner planted the seed, started me on the journey, and mentored me along the way. Other friends have read my manuscripts, critiqued my work, encouraged me, and provided me with opportunities to learn, to share, or conduct research.

But here is the latest way a friend has held me up when I needed it. When my good friend Kate Messner found out I could use some uninterrupted writing time, she offered me her writing room for the whole day. So I brought some supplies (granola bar, water, and a package of organic oatmeal), essentials (laptop, paper, and a pen), and necessities (I stopped at Stewart’s and bought an extra large hazelnut coffee and a pack of Winterfresh gum.).

By the time I arrived, Kate was at skating with her girl. Luckily she’d warned her hubby & boy that Hermit Writer was arriving so I wouldn’t startle them. After a brief hello, I made my way to the room.

Kate had left this on the desk:

(At least she used a <3 to give me a kick start!)

So I settled in and got to work…the view of Crab Island made me think of my dad, an avid boater, who died before my first novel was finished. He encouraged me to pursue my writing. Glancing out the window, seeing the memorial, made me feel like he was there, cheering me on and gave me comfort.

(Here is a link to the Crab Island Memorial:

I reviewed my notes for the end of the book, tweaking them a little. But there was still one little problem. Okay, a slightly big hole…there, are you happy? I knew what needed to happen and what the aftermath would be for my character. I just had to find a way to fill the whole….

After a little bit, the door cracked open and this flew in, which made me laugh:

(It’s a paper airplane with the wireless code! haha)
Kate knew that I sometimes needed to consult maps while I was writing this particular novel, where there is much movement.

But then a little bit later, Kate (being the giving and thoughtful friend that she is) delivered lunch: A homemade chicken, cheese, and rice burrito with a side of salsa…and my favorite beverage: water. Yummy! She also offered to bring me dinner, but I declined – I didn’t want to ask too much, so I'd be invited back another time!

I stayed in the writing room all day…until 7:00 pm. I was so engrossed in my story, I didn’t even get up to turn on the lights. I tapped away by the light of my backlit keyboard.

The room is calming, as you can see. What you can’t see is that it is magical! While I was letting the story flow from my imagination to the page, I had an epiphany! That big hole? Kate’s Writing Room worked its charm on me….and I built a bridge over the chasm, leading me solidly to the end of my journey. YAY!

How fortunate I am to have a friend like Kate! If you could, in the comments below, tell how a friend has helped you or you them with your writing. (Or other parts of your life..)
And may you all have at least one, true friend.

Book Review: LAWN BOY


Book Review: LAWN BOY by Gary Paulsen

One of the favorite books in my 7th grade classes right now is LAWN BOY by Gary Paulsen. Just Paulsen’s name alone is enough to get a student to try this book, as most of them know his novel HATCHET from a read-aloud in elementary school. Students love his accessible writing and fast-paced plot lines. In one class, the boys are passing around my copies and begging for their buddies to hurry up and finish. (It all started when I book-talked a batch of books the previous week.)

In LAWN BOY, Paulsen is at his funniest when a perfectly normal wish for a replacement bike tube leads the 12-year-old main character into a life of entrepreneurship. His summer of leisure takes a drastic turn when his grandmother gifts him with his grandfather’s old riding lawnmower.

The grandmother is an eccentric woman who has odd words of wisdom for people that are often seemingly disjointed, but do have a circuitous connection to reality. It is through her unusual gift that LAWN BOY is born and the wheels of fortune begin to roll.

From there we meet Arnold, one of his first customers, a work-from-home day trader, who strikes a deal with the budding businessman. Instead of paying him for mowing, he will invest his money in penny stocks. The reader is unsure of whether or not to trust Arnold, even though the narrator trusts his schemes immediately.

LAWN BOY is filled with humorous, easy-to-understand lessons on basic economics: stocks, capital growth, and investing. Readers see the value of hard work and the importance of treating employees fairly. The foreshadowing sprinkled throughout and the cliffhanger chapter endings keep my students turning pages. Not only that, Paulsen fills the book with wacky situations that compound upon one another, leading to a riotous ending.

Great for reluctant or slow readers, LAWN BOY is only 88 pages long and has much white space, which makes it non-threatening. It is also great for a higher-leveled reader who wants something quick to read, but with a good laugh.

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