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Relaxation and Reflection

Summer is a time to recharge our batteries, to spend time doing what we find enjoyable and thinking about family, friends, life, and school. For me the most relaxing activity is taking long walks very early in the morning, before the heat and humidity rise and make spending time outdoors difficult. Next, I love to read; during the summer I catch up on professional reading, but I also read mysteries and newspapers. I find that all the time my mind is connecting these experiences to what I learned about teaching from last year's experiences. Mulling over experiences is quite enjoyable. What do you do to relax and reflect on the school year? Please share.
Laura Robb


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Hi Laura...this summer has been a bit unusual...I've gone in to school about 10 or 15 times...I will be changing rooms and grade levels and I want to be ahead of the ball game this year...I usually don't go in before the first of August...I've also gone to two workshops...the first was the Lakota Literacy View...the second is Problem Based Learning which I will complete tomorrow...so even though I haven't been relaxing in the usual sense, I'm doing things of my own free will and on my own time so it doesn't seem forced upon me.

For fun I love being with my two grandchildren and working in the vegetable garden with my husband...I've been a bit lazy about it this year since it's been so hot. But the vegetables are coming in like crazy though...anyone for cucumbers and basil!!! Oh, I just finished reading The Girl With the Dragon Tatoo...apparently it's been on the best seller's list for a while. The author (Stieg Larsen) was Swedish and died before it was published...it definitely has some good mystery elements...btw, Laura, do you have any good 4th grade mysteries you'd recommend...I'm going start my year with mysteries as the genre? Do you have a planning sheet for mysteries like you do for biographies? Are you willing to share if yes?

Being alive and able to do what I want when I want is relaxing...but that time is rapidly coming to an end...school starts for teachers on August 11th...eeek!!!

Love, pe

Laura Robb

Dear Pat,

You joy in gardening, reading, and time with your grandchildren shines through every word! No better way to relax!

Ive read all of the Larsen books--loved the experience. Great mysteries, action with unpredictable twists and turns--the ideal summer books.

School starts earlier every year. I remember the days when classes didnt start until after Labor Day. Now that was a great renewal break!

I know students enjoy Encyclopedia Brown and for your more able readers might like some of John Bellairs books. Also, Betsy Byars has written some mysteries with a female detective--Herculeah Jones--well done books and ideal for your grade. I recommend that you google bookwizard. Its an amazing site and you can take a tour of it, then put in genre, reading levels, and an annotated list arrives on your computer. Once you use it, youll return again and again.

I dont have forms for mystery, but you can easily make one with questions around the detective and the skills needed to be a good detective, the crime, clues, the clue that helped the reader solve the mystery, those who work against the detective, etc.

Enjoy these upcoming days!

All best,

Laura Robb


Hi there, Laura.

I have been spending my summer (just about 24/7, I'm afraid) figuring out how I am going to teach my 7th-grade language arts classes all through the workshop approach. This will be my 25th year in 7th grade, but my first year with the workshop method. I am excited but overwhelmed. I have been looking to your blog for ideas.

Just the task of setting up my classroom library is daunting. A helper and I checked in and sorted over 900 books one day! Many of those books are from your Scholastic Classroom Library sets. I'm blessed with books, but I have some questions about organizing the library. Many elementary teachers use bins by genres for their books. I think this is daunting because so many books cross genres--such as the Twilight books, which are horror, fantasy, and romance. I can just see my kids struggling over which bin they should choose for re-shelving a book. I was thinking of alphabetical bins by authors' last names--an A bin, a B bin, etc. This method would still keep series together, well, most series. Should I keep nonfiction books separate from fiction books, by topic? What's would you recommend as the best way to start out?

I want to have everything organized and set to go the best way possible for my students from day one of school. I think it might be an ongoing process instead., and that's hard for me to accept.

When I do have a life outside schoolwork, I love to do needlework and read. Actually, I'm hungry for a good read about something other than teaching reading right now! I like to combine my interests and read books that involve needlework. The Monica Ferris Needlework Mysteries really fit me well. The first one is "Crewel World."

What are your suggestions for balance in a teacher's life? I really want to have relaxing/refreshment time for my psyche, fun time with my family, time to take care of my body and spirit, and still invest the time it takes to be a great teacher. I'm afraid I'm headed to burning out before school even starts this year! When I read your post about the need to relax and refresh, I knew it was time for me to seek your insights.

Still seeking the right balance after a quarter century,

Laura Robb

Dear Ellen,

Having a classroom library is fabulous--and one with 900 books is great! I organized my books on shelves by genre--thats the way middle school students choose books. So I would tape the genre onto the book shelf. Suspense, adventure, mystery, short story,folk tale, biography, realistic fiction, historical fiction, science fiction, drama, informational books, graphic novels, science fiction are the headings I use. Also, on each shelf, place one to two books with the covers facing out as this creates interest. I would also put books by a featured author or genre on windowsills and lean them against the wall under the chalkboard.
Teach your students to do meaningful, short book talks. If you have 25 students and they present a book talk each month, your students will be exposed to 250 books. Theres no better advertisement for reading and loving it.

You can find suggestions for book talking in my book, Differentiating Reading Instruction and in my binder, Teaching Reading: A Differentiated Approach.

Enjoy your year and always reserve some time for yourself!

All best,

Laura Robb


This is in response to ellen...Hi...I read your post with interest...one because I'm doing writing and reading workshop, not for the first time ever, but for the first time in a very, very long time...also, i was interested in your thoughts about organizing a classroom library (i'm sure that i have nowhere near 900 books!)...i think i'll go more with the 'genre' method (4th grade)...true, some books might cross categories, but that might be a good 'talking point' for students...how to find a book when it doesn't neatly fit in a category.

finally, i've been spending a lot of time reading about reading and writing workshop and i understand that it's easy to get too preoccupied and lack balance. at the same time i understand the trepidation you are feeling going into the school year. here's my advice: #1 - do the best you can...that's all you can do and #2 - even if you only change 10% each year, in five years you will have made tremendous progress. Rome wasn't built in a day and teaching is always fluid and changing.

the great thing, ellen, is that as a veteran teacher you are willing to go out in your comfort zone and try something new that you think will benefit your students...and it will...yes, there will be ups and downs, but your students will come out loving reading ...and that will be for a lifetime...as they say on the tv commercial...PRiCELESS!

so live a little...enjoy life...think positive...don't worry about messing up (it's gonna happen)...and keep forging on...have a great school year! love, pat


Thank you to both Laura and Pat. I appreciate the concrete suggestions, Laura. I am grateful for your validating comments, too, Pat. I should let go of my constant companion, perfectionism. I never made it to "perfect" anyway--a very disappointing expectation, I'm realizing.

My experience tells me that my students will be a great help in figuring out this workshop as this year goes along, and the next year, and so on, fluid, as you say. If I feel I'm drowning in the new system, I can go back to one of my established units, like visiting an old friend. Oh, that feels so delightful just to think about. Too much change at once is too much. I need to step back from my myriad new ideas and start the year with what I've already designed for the workshop for now.

Deep breaths. I will remember your thoughts and remind myself of them throughout the next several weeks. There is still opportunity for me to relax and reflect before I greet my students at the classroom door--with a plan in progress, books on the shelves, and a SMILE on my face!

I am thankful for both of you for your time and insight. I hope that other readers may also benefit from my outpouring of angst followed by your wise guidance. I am so glad I mustered my courage and posted a comment on Laura's blog!

Laura Robb

Dear Ellen,

Thanks so much for writing back. You are definitely on the right track. I believe with a more relaxed outlook, you will find workshop quite joyful.

Do keep in touch as what you write will help so many other teachers!

All best,

Laura Robb

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