5 Must-Have Entries for Your Pandemic Journal

Rarely, do you see me without a notebook. I have kept a journal for the past 20 years and have filled hundreds of notebooks with handwriting expressing my successes, failures, hopes, dreams, and even mundane daily tasks. There is no replacement for the feeling I get when my favorite pen glides across a new page in my journal! 

Keeping a journal provides a safe spot for expressing ideas, wrestling with questions, and writing yourself into history. It is both therapeutic and creative. Journaling is inexpensive and accessible; the writing that occurs is self-regulated and shares patterns, behaviors, and experiences that have defined us. 

Journaling also provides a unique primary source during historical moments in time for future generations to read and understand. Journals become a  collection of thoughts and experiences from the people who lived through it. Currently, we are all living in another one of these historical moments and a Pandemic Journal is a perfect place to record how we are living through these uncommon times, as well as a creative and meaningful way to encourage our students to write. 

Here are 5 Must-Have Entries for Your Pandemic Journals:

  1. Pandemic Picture – Inspired by the work of photographer, Gregg Segal, Pandemic Pictures depict a person surrounded by the items that are most important to them during this pandemic (and can be photographed). For instance, I told my daughter to collect 15 things that she couldn’t live without, were important to her, that she loved, or that brought her joy while sheltering in place. Her collection was filled with creativity, art supplies, music, technology, as well as TP, hand sanitizer, and a mask. This one photo represents her 12-year-old life during COVID-19 and will ignite memories to be shared with others in the future.

2. T-chart – Create a t-chart somewhere in the journal that will allow you to add to it throughout the pandemic. On one side list “Things I Love Right Now” and the other “Things I Miss Right Now”. Bike rides with my children, exploring nature, and the growing bond between siblings are a few things listed on my “Love” side. Flying and travel, extended family and friends, enjoying appetizers and drinks at a restaurant are just a few of the things I miss greatly. Having this space in my journal will allow me a dynamic spot to add to as time goes on.

3. Letter to Future Self – Letter writing has seen an increase during the pandemic. In your journal, write a letter to your future self explaining your current reality. How would you explain what you are experiencing? What would be important to remember? What hopes do you have for the future? Writing to your future will provide a time to not only grapple with current conditions but provide hope to what things will be like in the future. 

4. Listicle – A listicle is a piece of writing that is wholly or partly created by a list. This is another entry that can be ongoing, a place to record, in list form, things you want to remember. For instance, the price of gas (wow, is it low), what is missing from the grocery store, what people are hoarding, when businesses and recreation are closed and opened, how social distancing looks in the stores with the plastic guards and dots on the ground. There are many small things that have shifted in our daily lives, it will be important to note these differences. 

5. Interview – By our very nature, humans are social. And during these times, sheltering-in-place and social and physical distancing have become the norm, and in some places the mandate. Connecting with others is important for our physical and emotional health, and although we may not be able to meet for dinner or attend a celebration in person, talking with those we care about can be another entry to document in our pandemic journal. Interview a relative or friend and write down the conversation. What does their daily life look like now? What do they miss doing? What have they learned about their neighborhood, family, city, etc.? What sort of social norms are developing? What is closed? What is open? These interviews become part of a living history and help to stay connected to others. 

Journaling is not new, what is new is the current reality people across the globe are living through. Everyone’s life has been impacted by COVID-19 and it is important for us, and our students to capture our experiences and feelings to write ourselves into history. I encourage you to begin your own Pandemic Journal if you have not already done so, it is not too late. I would also encourage you to have your students and children write their thoughts in a journal during this time. It is not only therapeutic but a creative outlet that will benefit future generations to come. 

Have any other Must-Have Pandemic Journal ideas to share? Drop me a comment below!

Writing Prompts to Kick 2020 Off Right!

Within the next week or two, educators will return to school and greet the smiling faces of the students whom we have not seen since 2019. And with the new year, a new start is often viewed as an opportunity to set new goals or create new habits.

It’s the beginning of a new year and a new decade; 365 opportunities to dream big and accomplish something new (or something that has been an unreachable goal until this year). For many students, it will be time to reconnect with friends and teachers that they haven’t seen for a couple of weeks. Some students are beginning new coursework, attending a new school, or even planning for graduation in a few months.

As a teacher, returning from winter break was always my favorite time to have students write. Students wrote about their dreams, goals, and ambitions, plus, it went perfectly with the start of a new year and helped to build a community of writers!

Here are 3 WritingIdeas to Kick Off the New Year:

  1. Dream Big – Like a New Year’s Resolution, this writing assignment is filled with questions to consider and write about in hopes that what’s important to them at this moment rises to the top. The Dream Big writing prompt allows students to not only voice what is important to them but identify the steps necessary to accomplish their goal(s) and a timeframe in which to aim. 

New Year, Dream Big…

  • What are my dreams? In school? Life? Friendship? Activities? Etc. (Identify one to write about)
  • Why is this dream important to me? Why did I choose this one?
  • Is this a new dream? Old dream? Habitual dream?
  • What do I already know or understand about this dream?
  • What steps do I need to take to make this happen? Have I already completed or started any of these steps?
  • What help do I need to achieve this dream? Who or what can help me?
  • What is my timeframe for accomplishing this dream? How will I know I succeeded? When will it be time to give up?
  • Closing thoughts and reflections?

2. One Word – Instead of having a lengthy dream or resolution, why not have students identify and write about their One Word for the new year. Every year, educators and students alike choose and share their One Word publicly, but where do you start? And How do you help students identify their One Word? Once done, I always had my students create a visual to post on their blogs sharing their #OneWord or #OneWord2020 Here are a few questions to get them writing:

  • Reflect on who you were this past year? How would you describe yourself? How would others? 
  • Identify the type of person you want to be in the new year? What is your aspirational identity? 
  • Identify the characteristics and qualities of your aspiration or the person you want to be. 
  • Choose your word. Does it call you to action? Ooze passion? Reflect the person or the characteristic you want to be/portray?

3. Habits – Finally, many argue that resolutions are pointless and are quickly forgotten, and it is habits that we need to focus on. Habit tracking helps people identify the small consistent things they do daily that amount to a larger change.

Habit tracking allows one to make changes in their life that will last a lifetime, not just the first month of January 2020. Using a habit tracking app like Google Keep, Bullet Journals, or even Sticky Notes makes your progress visual and encourages continuation. I mean, who doesn’t like checking off a box on a list or calendar. And if you miss a day or two, habit tracking allows you to pick up your goals the very next day. 

As a teacher of writing, I knew the importance of modeling the process for students. When they wrote, I wrote. So be sure to include your own Dreams, One Word, Habits, or Resolutions with your students. And revisit them throughout the rest of the school year, reflecting on progress and where to go to next! 

So consider having your students write to start off the New Year. Help them vocalize their dreams and make them a reality! And enjoy your 2020, I know I plan to make this my best year yet! And my #OneWord for 2020 in case you are curious #Value

12 Quotes About Writing from the Experts Teachers Love

I love teaching writing. Well, let me rephrase that, I love teaching writing, now… It wasn’t until I was in my graduate studies that I actually learned how to teach writing. Sure, I wrote in college, learned grammar and convention rules, explored genres, and had writing classes during my undergraduate work, but a class on how to actually teach writing… I don’t recall that being part of any course I took for my education degree.

Following my graduate studies my philosophy on the teaching of writing changed. I found my students more interested in writing and sharing their thoughts. I, too, began to write more and eventually started a blog to share with other educators. And along with an increase in enjoyment and confidence, the skills and craft of writing strengthened.

Now, I work with other educators on how they can best refine their instructional practices. And when I am lucky, I get to also share my best practices in the teaching of writing. One thing is certain when I share my love of writing with other educators; I have been influenced by many experts in the field of writing. The following is a small sampling of what I feel are important quotes, suggestions, and affirmations on the teaching of writing.


A person can read without writing, but he cannot write without reading. If we neglect writing, it is also at the expense of reading.


Linda Rief


The world of writing is a mural, not a snapshot. Students’ notions of genre should be expansive, not narrow.

Tom Romano


Writing is not thinking written down after all of the thinking is completed. Writing is thinking.


Donald M. Murray


We are living in a new era of literacy, one in which participation is key – participation in:
A digital culture
A democracy
A global conversation
What this participation mostly entails is writing.


Randy Bomer & Michelle Fowler


Writing taught once or twice a week is just frequent enough to remind students that they can’t write and teachers that they can’t teach.


Donald H. Graves


You don’t learn to write by going through a series of preset writing exercises. You learn to write by grappling with a real subject that truly matters to you.

Ralph Fletcher


Teach the writer, not the writing.

Lucy Calkins


Studies over time indicate that teaching formal grammar to students has a negligible or even harmful effect on improving student writing.

Regie Routman


Very young children can write before they can read, can write more than they can read, and can write more easily than they can read—because they can write anything they can say.


Calkins; Graves; Harste, Woodward, & Burke; Sowers


Writing, in this instance, is a particularly powerful tool for helping adolescents listen, reflect, converse with themselves, and tackle both cultural messages and peer pressures.

Peter Elbow


After all, teachers should not be able to grade all of the writing students do. If they can, they aren’t inviting students to write enough.

Douglas Fisher & Nancy Frey


But of all of the strategies I have learned over the years, there is one that stands far above the rest when it comes to improving my student’s writing: The teacher should model writing – and think out loud while writing – in front of the class.

Kelly Gallagher

Teaching students to write is something very few teachers learned how to do during their undergrad. But when we do teach writing, the voice that is developed in our students carries with them into their adult lives. It’s hard, difficult at times, but definitely worth it! And just when we least expect it, a former student drops you a line like this one on Facebook!

My New “EdVenture”

Well, friends, I am excited to announce that today I begin a new “EdVenture”. I am thrilled to have been offered and accepted a position with Open Up Resources.

A child’s zip code should not determine the quality of education they receive, nor should it determine the access educators have to curriculum and professional learning. Every child, everywhere, deserves and can receive a high quality, equitable literacy education with the support of OER (Open Education Resources) and evidence-based, high-yield instructional practices.

This is why I am honored to join the team at Open Up Resources as the new ELA Community Manager and Professional Learning Associate.

For the past 20 years, I have dedicated my life to education and literacy. Lifelong learning starts with a strong foundation in literacy, impacting a student’s personal, professional, and civic lives. Opportunities are opened and potential is realized when one can discern information with a critical eye and communicate their message effectively. As a classroom teacher and regional support consultant, I navigated the perils and success of literacy learning, honed my craft through professional learning communities, continued my education, and consulted research.

Now, I begin a new chapter in the education field, continuing to advocate for high-quality literacy learning while supporting teachers and district leadership implementing the ELA curriculum from Open Up Resources across digital platforms and face to face.

Technology not only changed my teaching but opened the world for my students. In 2008, I became a 1:1 laptop teacher, meaning, all of our students were given laptops to use during the school year. Because of this, I am a connected educator, blogger, and Tweet regularly. The connections I have made over the years have positively shaped me into the educator I am today. The sharing of resources, relationships made with educators across the globe, and the access to information are benefits I wish all teachers could capitalize upon. Along with these benefits, the growing awareness and use of OERs is an economical way for teachers to update content, differentiate in the classroom, and use, reuse, and redistribute material for all students.

Part of my role will be growing and supporting educators implementing ELA Open Up Resources in their classrooms; EL Education K–5 Language Arts & Bookworms K–5 Reading and Writing. Through regular Twitter Chats #OpenUpELA, online webinars and book clubs, and communication through FB Communities I hope to connect educators across the nation with a focus on ELA and OER. Open Up Resources has a vibrant Math Community that is supported and led by my new colleague, Brooke Powers, if you are not following her on Twitter, do so now, she is amazing and I can’t wait to learn from her.

The second part of my role will include Professional Learning. Collaboration with the team, designing and evaluating Professional Learning, and providing feedback from the implementing teachers; I hope to utilize my skill set and expertise to enhance literacy learning for ALL students.

Here are a few quick reasons why I am excited to be joining Open Up Resources:

  1. Our Mission: To increase equity in education by making excellent, top-rated curricula freely available to districts.
  2. Open Education Resources (OER) awareness is growing across the nation and Open Up Resources is a leader in this education community
  3. Blending of all of my passion areas
  4. A work/life integration with a value on family
  5. Incredible team made up of top-notch educators

Feel free to ask me anything about OER and the ELA or Math Curriculums we have at Open Up Resources, K-12 Literacy, or Technology in the Classroom. I would love to have a geek out session with you! Changing education is tough, why not do it with other passionate educators in your tribe? A huge shout out to the team at OUR who took a chance on me, time to roll up my sleeves and get to work.

Visible Learning in Literacy: 3 Takeaways from John Hattie and Nancy Frey

Opportunity to learn with renowned education researchers and practitioners rejuvenates the mind and reignites the passion in many educators. In the second of our two-part series, Steven Anderson and I share what we learned from the Visible Learning Institute in San Diego, this time with a focus on literacy. Head over to part one to see our initial thoughts and shares.

The second day at the Visible Learning Institute in San Diego provided attendees choice in one of two paths in which to learn;  literacy and math. Steven and I jumped at the chance to learn from Nancy Frey and chose the literacy learning to continue to grow our knowledge in this area for supporting educators around the globe. Frey and Doug Fisher (her colleague) have worked extensively with John Hattie in the realm of literacy practices and transferring his research into practice. They have multiple books with Hattie, two of our favorites being Visible Learning for Literacy Grades K-12 and Teaching Literacy in the Visible Learning Classroom, Grades 6-12. 12.

Frey consistently delivers high-quality and classroom applicable learning during her workshops and this experience was much the same. During Day 2, she used a combination of research, theory, and classroom application to deepen our understanding of high-impact instruction during each phase of learning.

3 Takeaways:

Constrained and Unconstrained Skills – Constrained skills are those that have boundaries and edges to them and are acquired at concrete stages of development. These include phonemic awareness and phonics. Unconstrained skills are boundless, limitless and continue to grow throughout life. These include vocabulary and comprehension. While no argument can be made against the direct instruction and learning of constrained skills, Frey reminded us all that they are important but not sufficient. Leveled texts are great for learning constrained skills, but unconstrained skills are not developed through these types of texts. Both constrained and unconstrained skills develop independently; it is important for all educators in all subject areas to pay attention to both.

Reading Volume – The amount one reads is important, but do you know how important it is for our students? Frey offered statistics to drive home the point about reading volume. Reading 20 minutes a day = 1,800,000 words per year & 90th percentile on standardized tests. Reading 5 minutes a day = 282,000 words per year & 50th percentile on standardized tests. Finally, a student who reads only 1 minute a day = 8,000 words per year & 10th percentile on standardized tests. Assumptions that all kids have access and time at home to read will not increase reading volume; instead, make time for students to read in your classroom.

In addition, as Frey reinforced, students need both content specific reading but also need the exploration of texts beyond the content. If a student enjoys to pleasure read graphic novels we should not dissuade that student from choosing them. Rather, we should support them while still exposing them to content specific passages and texts.

Surface, Deep, Transfer Learning – Hattie, Fisher, and Frey discuss a scale for learning and divide it up into 3 parts of a triangle. Surface, Deep, and Transfer Learning make up this scale representing learning as a process, not an event. Along with the description of each, Frey offered high-impact instructional strategies to support learning.

Surface – Surface Learning, the base of the triangle, is learning that takes place during the acquisition of skills and understanding of concepts. Learners often recognize patterns and start to build foundational knowledge to support the next level of the triangle, Deep Learning.

High-Impact Instructional Strategies to support Surface Learning and the effect size:
  • Repeated Reading (.67)
  • Feedback (.75)
  • Collaborative Learning with Peers (.59)

Deep – Deep Learning builds off of the Surface Learning students acquire. As Frey states, you have to know something before you are able to do something with that knowledge. Deep Learning consists of consolidation through connections, relationships, and schema to organize skills and concepts. Deep learning is also used to consolidate constrained and unconstrained skills. Students need more complex tasks to deepen their own learning.

High-Impact Instructional Strategies to support Deep Learning and the effect size:
  • Concept Mapping (.60)
  • Class Discussions (.82)
  • Metacognitive Strategies (.69)
  • Reciprocal Teaching (.74)

Transfer – Finally, learning and school should not stop with just Surface and Deep Learning. Transfer Learning is self-regulation to continue learning skills and content independent of the teacher. Frey admits, not everything we teach or learn is worthy of Transfer Learning. Transfer Learning places more responsibility on the learner to question, investigate, and organize to propel their learning.

High-Impact Instructional Strategies to support Transfer Learning and the effect size.
  • Reading Across Documents to Conceptually Organize (.85)
  • Formal Discussions, Debates, Socratic Seminars (.82)
  • Problem Solving (.61)
  • Extended Writing (.43)

PBL – Problem-based Learning – effect size is low at surface level learning (.15) but significantly higher at Transfer level learning (.61)

As Day 2 came to a close, our minds were spinning with information and ideas. Nancy Frey not only shared Visible Learning in Literacy but invited us to consider what approaches work best at the right time for the right learning, never to hold an instructional strategy in higher esteem than a student, and our favorite, “Every student deserves a great teacher, not by chance, but by design.”