The Classroom Library (Yes, Even in HS!)


Classroom LibraryI’m officially the Crazy Cat Lady–but with books.

My husband says I work for free–although, if we’re counting this past year, I may have actually paid to come to work. The reason? You’re looking at it: the classroom library.

After being inspired by the likes of Kelly Gallagher (Readicide), Penny Kittle (Book Love), and Donalyn Miller (The Book Whisperer and Reading in the Wild), a colleague and I set out to reintroduce our students to the love of reading. The three biggest paradigm shifts included allowing our students to read anything during the opening ten minutes of class (every day), letting the students choose at least 50% of their texts throughout the year, and, in my case, surrounding my students with books. Lots and lots of books.

We have a fully functioning school library nearby, and our media specialist enthusiastically supports the literacy work we are…

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5 Ways Teachers Can Improve Their Craft

I have been thinking a lot lately about what qualities a good teacher has. I have worked with many of them and here is what I have gleaned from how they teach:

  1. Collaborate – Planning lessons with each other and listening to each other’s ideas is paramount in improving the craft of teaching.
  2. Watch Each Other Teach – Seriously, give up some of your conference time to watch a fellow teacher. It doesn’t even have to be the subject you teach, although it is enlightening to see another educator teach a lesson you planned together. I cannot tell you how much I have learned by watching my colleagues.
  3. Read, Read, Read! – I know some teachers who NEVER read for professional development. If you do no other self-selected PD, at least read up on how you can improve your content knowledge or teaching pedagogy. There are books, blogs, articles, videos, etc. If you can’t find the time or inclination to do this, how can your teaching get better? We are supposed to be experts in the classroom,  let’s act like it!
  4. Try New Things in the Classroom – We want our students to take risks in the classroom, but we do not always model this. Find a lesson that you have always wanted to try…and then DO it. If you fail, so what? Try it again a different way until you are happy with it. Get feedback from your students. Trust me, they will tell you whether or not the lesson worked!
  5. Keep Improving – Do not give up trying to better yourself as a teacher. There are literally hundreds, maybe thousands, of free professional development opportunities on the internet. We owe our students the very best and it is our duty to show them the value of education and how important it is to never stop learning. It begins with us.

A Time for Failure

“Fall down seven times, get up eight,” is a Japanese proverb that I often relay to my students when they experience failure. Many of them see failure as the end of an endeavor, be it a research project, unit test, or the reading or writing state test. I want to teach them that to fail at a task is the beginning of any worthwhile endeavor. Experiencing failure teaches us that we can only get better by continuing to try, that we must learn from what we did incorrectly in order to improve, and to feel that when we do finally experience success, that every step until then was well worth the effort.

Many of my students feel defeated when they fail an assignment or an exam. Their immediate response is to give up, forget it, never try it again. After all, why continue to try if you are only ever going to fail? I tell them that if they do try again, their next failure will be a better one. They often seem confused when I share this. I then tell them that in order to get past this failure, they need to focus on what went wrong the first time and improve it for the next go around. The more they try to reach their goal, the easier it will be to get there, despite experiencing a lack of success at it again and again.

Students need to learn to fail better.

I tell my students about the many successes, and the many more failures, of Thomas Edison. After over 9,000 failures when trying to invent the light bulb (9,000!), Edison was noted as saying, “Why would I feel like a failure? And why would I ever give up? I now know definitively over 9,000 ways that an electric light bulb will not work. Success is almost in my grasp.” His 10,000th try gave us the electric light bulb. It is this attitude that I want my middle schoolers to understand.

Middle school students are not always as reflective of their failures as we might like them to be. Many of them do not want to be reminded of the many times it took them to pass a test or how many times they had to try out for the basketball team before finally making it. Reflecting on their failures shows them that every single time they were unsuccessful, they learned something from it to help them improve their next (possible) failure.

Reflection also teaches them that because of their hard work and determination, they got much further with the subsequent failures, bringing them much closer to experiencing success.

In the words of Stanford University psychologist, Albert Bandura, “In order to succeed, people need a sense of self-efficacy, to struggle together with resilience to meet the inevitable obstacles and inequities of life.”

Our students need develop a sense of self-efficacy and begin to see the value of making mistakes and how this aids them in their growth as a student and a human being. Believing in themselves and focusing on their past and future successes will help them to “get up eight times” when they “fall down seven.”

Teaching students to build their resiliency and learn from their mistakes is what will help them deal with failure and disappointment as they get older. To keep trying, despite the obstacles, through fortitude and persistence, is the true definition of success.

Failure then, is not the end, but the beginning.


“How Many Times Did Thomas Edison Try to Make the Light Bulb?” 23 Apr. 2008. Web. 1 Apr. 2016. In-line Citation: (“How Many Times Did Thomas Edison Try to Make the Light Bulb?”)


Bibliography: BrainyQuote, 2016. Resilience Quotes at BrainyQuote. BrainyQuote, 2001. Web. 1 Apr. 2016. In-line Citation: (BrainyQuote)

My Life as a Reader

“Read like a wolf eats.” –Gary Paulsen

Ever since I learned to read at age four, I have been a voracious reader. I come by this naturally. My mother was and is still an avid reader and we read the same books and share our views on an ongoing basis. I owe my love of reading to her.

One particular reading memory stands out to me. One summer Saturday, I was engrossed in a Harriet the Spy book. When my mother called me for lunch, I remember being surprised as I looked out the living room window. It was not raining as I had believed. It was a beautiful sunny day. It was then I realized that I could lose myself in a book.

In college, I majored in English Literature. At the time, I did not choose this major to become a writer or a teacher. I simply wanted to read good literature and discuss it with my peers (a pretty expensive book discussion group, but I got a degree out of it.) I worked at a bookstore during this time and I loved every minute of it. I had any book I could ever want at my fingertips. I read whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted to. The whole of my twenties was engulfed in books.

When I became an English teacher six years ago, it seemed the natural career for me. I could teach my students my favorite books and share the joy of reading with them. This is when I learned that not everyone loves to read. Many of my students listed reading at the top of their most hated things to do list. I was discouraged by this my first year of teaching, but eventually I began to see this as a challenge: I would get them to love reading as much as I did. Armed with the best book on the subject, The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller, I began to turn my non-readers into readers.

I began to read young adult novels so that I could make recommendations to my students. I share what I am reading with my seventh and eighth graders and my excitement about what I am reading excites them in turn. This school year I plan on getting my Pre-AP students to create book trailers and present them to the class.

These days, I never go anywhere without a book. There are books in my car, bedroom, each of my bathrooms, living room, guest room, daughter’s room and kitchen (and not just cook books). One of my biggest fears is being caught somewhere and having to wait an inordinate amount of time and not having something to read. I read constantly, both for pleasure and for professional development. Reading is one of the greatest joys of my life and I consider being an English teacher a blessing. I think about this every time I open a book and I am thankful.

Vanessa Capaldo is an English teacher in Fort Worth, TX. She lives with her husband and daughter, three cats, two fish, and their many precarious piles of books.

Originally published on Nerdy Book Club

My Teaching Philosophy

I believe that a teacher should value, appreciate, and celebrate the uniqueness of each student’s personality, culture, and learning style by getting to know them as individuals. The time spent building these vital and empowering relationships is key in allowing children to grow as learners and as the adults they will soon be.

Along with building relationships with students, parents should not be discounted. Having a positive connection with family is extremely important in building a foundation for student growth. In our classroom, we establish norms about what is and is not acceptable. The expectation is that we will do our best to resolve differences in a kind and compassionate manner, resulting in a safe and trusting environment for social, emotional, and academic success.

I strive to create a culturally competent classroom that honors, recognizes, and respects each and every culture. While many of my students’ cultures and backgrounds do not necessarily echo my own, we all share the experience of learning, thinking, and collaborating. Every learner is unique and comes to us with a plethora of experiences, both positive and negative. As educators, we need to be able to allow students to have a voice, and we need to listen to what they are saying.

I believe that every child deserves a quality education. Learning should be student-centered and teacher facilitated. As educators, we may not always be able to choose what we teach, but we can allow students a choice in how they learn. Giving a choice to students cultivates true engagement and encourages motivation and commitment.

Teachers should foster a sense of self-efficacy in all students. Perseverance is paramount to academic achievement. Students need to learn to push past their limitations and discover that making mistakes and experiencing failure is a part of learning. I tell my students that we can learn from our mistakes, that we will “fail better” the next time we try something, but that we can never stop trying if we are to be successful.

Today’s students are 21st century thinkers and learners. They are learning to be problem solvers who not only look for solutions, but must be able to anticipate the challenge to begin with. They need to learn authentically, and be able to transfer this learning to the future workplace in an increasingly complex world. There is no more teaching “old school.” Students today do not gain knowledge from assignments that involve worksheets or answering low-level comprehension questions. They need to be allowed to practice collaboration skills, develop innovative ideas, communicate to a genuine audience with diverse perspectives, and ask critical questions and evaluate the answers.

Teaching with technology is a must. Many teachers I know do not want to use technology in their classrooms for fear of ceding control to their students. Educators should embrace technological applications in the classroom and use them as a way to gain knowledge and bond with their students. Technology should be a teacher’s best friend, not an arch-nemesis. If we are educating 21st century learners, we need to become 21st century teachers.

Educating readers and writers can be a challenge. However, if they are encouraged to read, write, argue, and defend their viewpoints authentically on a daily basis, they will learn to be critical thinkers and compassionate, literate human beings. They will progress academically and they will demonstrate success on standardized assessments.

Finally, our kids need to know how to be life-long learners. The purpose of education, according to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, “… is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically.*”

This is my goal as an educator.

Bibliography: “The purpose of education.” n.d. Web. 1 Apr. 2016. In-line Citation: (“The Purpose of Education”)