Teaching With Intention Book Study - Chapters 3 & 4

Welcome back to the book study! Today we will be chatting about chapters of 3 and 4 of Teaching with Intention by Debbie Miller.

To start at the beginning of this book study with me:
If you are interested in getting college credit from Concordia University for joining this book study, you can get all the details hereIt costs $127 and you can join in just by following along and sharing your thoughts in the comments. At the end of the book study, you will have to complete a written assignment summarizing what you learned and how you will apply it.

Don't forget to make your Book Study Journal! This will come in handy when you go to write your culminating summary!


Chapters 3 & 4

I think it is important to have a carpet area in my classroom.  At my previous school, my mother-in-law generously bought a carpet for my room.  I brought it to Hawaii with us when we moved and was so glad we did, as no classroom in my school had one! I couldn’t imagine teaching without it! In other classrooms, students would gather on the regularly carpeted floor, but it wasn’t the same as a colored, plush, and inviting rug.  As I move over to Maui, I was so lucky to review a rug from kidcarpet.com.  When I went to my new classroom to check it out, I noticed that there was an existing rug in the room, but it was solid burgundy color, old, with tattered edges.  Time for that one to go! If you are like me, in a room without a rug or with an old tattered one, go look at kidcarpet.com.  The rug I got was only $279 for a 7.5’x12’. They are made in the US and are really nice.  Almost $300 is a lot of money, but a quality rug is such a wonderful investment for the comfort of your classroom.

In my last classroom, I had 42 book baskets: a combination of the large ones from Really Good Stuff and locker bins from The Dollar Tree.  Having a lot of books is really important to me - and in a wide variety and level.  I probably have over 1000 books in my classroom library alone.  When I taught 3rd grade in Portland, I had 2 students who read at an ending kindergarten level and some who read at a middle school level.  I needed everything from high-interest phonics readers to age-appropriate novels!  
During my first year of teaching, I was like the new teacher in the book, Katy.  I didn’t have a lot of high-interest books for my students to read, so I worked really hard to fix that.  I used Scholastic bonus points to buy books and spent my own money each month to buy books.  Back then, you needed to have $20 of orders to get free shipping, so if only a few children ordered books, I would order enough to make $20.  My grandma was also an avid reader and usually gave away or donated books when she was done with them.  She started giving them to me and I made an arrangement with a local used bookstore where I would trade her novels straight across for children’s books.  The bookstore was happy to help a new teacher! I went to library sales where I would find books for 50 cents and I always accepted books from other teachers who were cleaning out their rooms.  I’m not a big garage-saler, so I didn’t usually find books that way, but I know lots of people who do.  Craigslist and eBay are also great sources for finding retired teachers who want to sell all of their books for a cheap price. 
I organize my books by genre, theme, and author.  I used to laminate my book basket tags, but then would sometimes have to wait until there was laminate at school or when I had something else to laminate with it if I ever wanted to add a new label.  A few years ago I started using clear, plastic ID covers instead.  They are way sturdier, and I can slip a new label in at any time.  I’ve always labeled my books with an address label that matched the bin label, as well.  I found this system is especially helpful for kindergarteners and first graders.  I always have a word and a picture that they can match the book to a bin.  I find this easier than a color dot system.  Sometimes I want to change the bin that a book goes in and it can be a pain to peel the sticker off, but it’s doable.  I usually just bring a stack of books home that I want to change and do it while I sit on the couch and watch TV.  I’ve even had responsible students help me do it!

When I taught kindergarten and first, I also had a separate lending library.  It had books for DRA levels A-20.  Students would bring one book home everyday to read and write on their reading log.  I stopped doing this when I moved up to 3rd because I didn’t have enough higher-level titles.  I’m excited to start it back up, though, as I move back down to first next year!

At my last school, we did not have a book room for guided reading books.  Each teacher had a set of leveled books in their classrooms that were for their grade level only.  Some teachers did borrow books from each other, but because there were not a lot of titles for each level, it was hard to do that. The reality was that in many classrooms students who read above grade level were reading books that were too easy and students who read below level were struggling through books that were too hard.  I ended up subscribing to Reading A-Z and making my own set of below level readers and used all my Scholastic bonus points to buy novel sets for my above readers.  At my ideal school, there would be a book room where all teachers took the responsibility to keep clean and organized in order to be able to share titles to teach the wide ranges of readers in our classrooms. 

For the purposes of  this chapter, I’ m going to talk about my old classroom, as I haven’t set up my new one yet and I’m not sure what is all there yet.  I like that I have a large carpet for gathering, tables in groups, materials organized so students can find what they need.  I have a second table that an assistant teacher uses during reading groups, but students can work at it during other parts of the day. 

Even though I gave up my big desk last year, I still feel that my “teacher stuff” takes up a large corner of the room.  I have a large filing cabinet, a small computer desk (I wish I could get rid of the teacher desktop computer, it’s so huge), a kidney table that is essential to teaching small groups, a shelf for my teaching materials, and two big bookshelves for my guided reading books.  In my ideal world, those would all go to a book room for teachers to share and check out.  I think freeing up this space would make my room less cluttered looking and would look more student centered.

  • With my large rug, I feel that shows that I value classroom community.  
  • Students can work either at the large carpet, at their table groups, on a small carpet, at a rectangle table, or even with pillows.  This shows that I provide options for students to work in large groups, small groups, partners, and alone. 
  • My student desks are in groups to promote collaboration.  Student supplies are in their desks.  There is also a tall shelf for book boxes and reading materials. 
  • There is a small writing center with stamps and different kinds of paper.  The math area is in a closet where the children have access to the math center supplies, extra dice and money pieces, and other manipulatives.  The science stuff is all put away and I bring it out as we are learning certain concepts.  I wish I had more room for it to be out, but I don’t. 
  • My books are in shelves along the large carpet area.  It made more sense for them to be in one spot so they would be easier to find. 
  • I have 2 classroom computers with math game CD-ROMs in them.  They do not hook up to the Internet.  I also have an iPad that small groups use. 
  • I got rid of my teacher desk last year and couldn’t be happier about the decision. 

  • I have painted bulletin boards in the past and I really loved it.  But in my old classroom, I used black sheets to cover my bulletin boards and I loved it even more!  Everything that I put up popped off the black background and the staples left no marks at all!  
  • I also painted my bookshelves black so that my colorful book bins and books would pop.  I didn’t want people to walk in and see color and patterns; I wanted them to see student work and tons of books!
  • To fix the trash cans, instead of replacing, I would spray paint them! As well as filing cabinets.  Spray paint is my best friend when it comes to the classroom.  It’s cheap and makes such an impact.  Make sure to look up some YouTube videos so you learn the proper technique. 
  • Whenever I got rid of furniture, I either sent out an email to the whole staff, or I put it outside my room with a note that said “FREE”.  Someone always picked it up!
  • I’m lucky that I didn’t have a harsh fire marshal when it came to rugs, pillows, and hanging from the ceiling. 
  • I made an Amazon list last year for the classroom and shared it with parents.  No one bought anything for the class, but we also didn’t have a PTA and parents were not very involved in the classrooms.  I hope that this would change as a new PTA-type group just started up. 

I don’t have students help organize books because of the sticker system I use and love.  I know I should just try it, but the system I have works and I don’t see a need to trying to fix it.  I could have kids help me organize math manipulatives, science materials, or even where to put the writing center.  That might be some fun first day activities! When I first moved to my old school, the room was a complete disaster: Math manipulatives were scattered everywhere, dirty dishes were left in the sink, and ripped books were in the corner.  I had the kids help me sort all of the math supplies and put them into buckets.  They did a great job and I really do feel that it helped them realize this was OUR classroom.  If I find my new room is a mess like that, I would definitely have the kids help me again. 

As Debbie was describing how she would think about other things she needed to do while she was teaching, I was reminded of myself! These are my ideas for how I can try to be less of a multi-tasker and more present in my teaching:
  • Be a better list maker
  • Use my planner more so I don’t have to worry about meetings, etc.
  • Get a desktop planner
I post math discussion stems around my calendar wall to help facilitate math discussions.  I got the set of questions from a math training I went to from The Math Learning Center years ago.  But after reading this chapter, I want to incorporate them in other areas of my classroom, too.  I’m not sure right now if a simple teacher cheat-sheet is going to work best, or having the questions posted around the room.  I made a little freebie if you want to use these more in your classroom, too!  Like Debbie said, the answers are already inside us, we just need to practice being present, thoughtful, reflective, and authentic.  Having a set of questions for us to practice with and to teach kids to use while discussing with each other seems like a great first step for making this type of questioning habit.

I know that I am not the most perfect and encouraging teacher at times.  I try, but I am human.  Something I say when students ask me silly questions that I know they can figure out themselves is "Use your brain."  It seems to work, but I often wonder if it's not the most positive thing to say.  Even though I'm conscious about it, it still slips out of my mouth almost everyday! I need to find a phrase to replace it with that would be more encouraging, like "Hmm, let's think this through and see if you can figure it out."  That doesn't have the same conciseness as "Use your brain", but it's a start.


  1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Debbie Miller is my (virtual) mentor, and I think that what she has to say is right on the money. While I'm sure our classrooms don't look anything alike, everything that you said resonated and mimics my own thoughts on my classroom and teaching. Well done.

    1. Oops! Forgot to thank you for the discussion starters. I will share with my EA and any volunteers in my classroom (and the kids, of course!)

    2. That's a great idea to share with EA's and volunteers! So glad you can use it!

  2. Thank you for the discussion starters. I really like that they are small and can be posted around the room to remind me to use them throughout the day. I too, use them a lot in math and not as much in other subjects. I do have to say that having the students help sort the books was a great activity for my second graders this year. I did it mid-year and noticed they started taking better care of the books after that activity. As a bonus, they were constantly talking about if the book was fiction or nonfiction. Since you already have a system in your classroom, maybe you can do this activity with a box of new books instead of the entire library.
    The Traveling Teacher

    1. I love your idea of having the kids sort new books! I will definitely start doing that!

  3. Thanks for the discussion starters..great idea and prompt/reminder for me to use in class daily. I am really enjoying this book. So much to think about and contemplate!

  4. I like your comment about trying to find a phrase. I often find myself telling my first graders to be a problem solver not a problem! Lol

  5. I like having a phrase to help students learn to use their brains. I often say, " how can you solve that problem."

  6. I wish I would have ran across this book study earlier! It looks like a great book!

  7. I made a ton of notes in my notebook for chapter 3. For the most part, I think I am doing well, but I can always do better. I really want a carpet! Maybe someday :). I definately want to teach more from our meeting place this year. I have already been in my room rearranging furniture and planning out new things. One thing that I want to work on is getting the kids to really feel a responsibility in taking care of our room, especially the books. Having them help put them in the right baskets should help. Maybe a mini lesson on sorting books by labels since mine are already labeled.

    Chapter 4 was a great reminder to watch what we say. I want to plan out more clearly different reading strategies like inferring so I can lead discussions better. Sorry I have a lot to say.

  8. I enjoyed reading chapter 3 and thinking and rethinking about my classroom environment. I am EXTREMELY lucky that my principal values a place for us to gather and has purchased us rugs to use. (On a side note, I LOVE that chevron looking rug you blogged about last school year- beautiful!)

    This year, I decided to cover my bulletin boards in fabric and am so happy with the results! I am completely re-doing my library- I bought new bright baskets from the dollar store and am remaking my book bin labels. I have already been thinking about which book themes I need to use my scholastic points to buy more of.

    I am hoping to e-mail you later about how you level your library books for use during Daily 5 when students select good fit books...I'm not sure how to even start going about doing this.

    Our school does have a book room to check out guided reading books but most of the quality books are already in the classrooms. Our guided books don't seem to cycle in and out of the classrooms. Most teachers just hang on to them.

    My classroom is a little on the small side. I have worked really hard to try and create little area for students to work but it is really hard to do when you have to fit 27 student desks into the mix.

  9. I too enjoyed reading chapter 3 and thinking about my classroom environment. I currently have a great meeting area and book organization system. I am looking forward to using some of the suggestions listed about bulletin board spaces and having students participate in new book sorting.