Category Archives: Education

Another reason why teachers should write books

I have written before about why teachers should write more books.  I had another experience today, that I wished I could share with others.

I presented to my class a couple of copies of Kevin and the Triple Creature today.  I had several students who were particularly asking me to be the first to read them when they would be ready.  I learned to predetermine who would get the books first.  I almost had a, let’s call it an “aggressive disagreement” between students, when I dropped off copies of Kevin and the Three-Headed Alien.  Lesson learned.

You could get picky and say that phrase didn't come from the above scene.  You could.

You could get picky and say that phrase didn’t come from the above scene. You could.

(Aggressive disagreements are similar to aggressive negotiations that Jedi’s have.  Just minus the lightsabers.)

How many other writers can say they had to stop an “aggressive disagreement” over being the first to read their books?

Today my two students brought their copies of the book with them to lunch.  They read them while walking to lunch.

Those copies came from this box.

Those copies came from this box.

I wish you could experience that.

This is why teachers need to write books.  I have so many teachers tell me they want to write a book.  If you could experience this, you would be motivated finish that book.  Students will be impressed that you wrote a book.  They will be motivated to write like you.  They will send you their books for you to review.

Teachers, write your books.

The math behind getting creative stuff done.

Looking at my posts I realize that I have been neglectful of this blog over the holidays.  Thanksgiving, Christmas and work responsibilities can get overwhelming.  But stuff still gets done.

In 2013 I put out three books for children.  I have a lot of teachers ask how I was able to put out three books in the past year, while also teaching.  First, let me say that there are other writers that are able to get more work out than I have this year.  I try not to compare myself to others in how much work gets down or how successful it is.  But I fail at that.  I am human.  I compare.

Maybe that is why teachers ask me how I have done it, they’re comparing themselves to me.  So here goes my plan.  And it is very simple.

Maybe I am stealing from Tim Ferris here.  I don’t know.  He advocates a 4 hour work week.  I am not even suggesting that much for a side project.

15 minutes a day.

That’s it.  That’s my goal.

15 minutes a day equals 250 words.

Just 15 minutes a day.

Just 15 minutes a day.

During a normal day I teach 5th grade.  That alone is enough.  Lesson plans, meetings, parent conferences, grading.  You know, teaching.

Then there is family time.  I have a two year old in the house.  I want to spend as much time as possible with her during this time.  So I do.

But if I set a goal of 15 minutes a day I can get stuff done.  Not blazing fast.  But stuff gets done.  And that’s the goal.  Get stuff done.

Here is the math.

For my writing speed, 15 minutes is about 250 words. 250 words is about half a regular sized paper.

With 250 words a day you can have the text to a picture book in 4 days.

With 250 words a day you can have a rough draft of a 10,000 word early chapter book in 40 days.  (At that rate you can have 9 rough drafts done a year.)

With 250 words a day you can have a rough draft done for a 50,000 word novel in 200 days.

But 15 minutes is the minimum.  Most of the time I go over that 15 minutes.  You get in the flow of writing and you can’t leave.  Before you know it, you have 500-1000 words in front of you.  But aim for 15 minutes or 250 words.  Set yourself up to win.

If you set yourself up, to say, I am going to write 1,000 words a day.  Well.  You write only 750 words.  You’ve failed.  Set a goal of 15 minutes a day and you can easily surpass your goal daily.

What happens when you set a goal and you consistently fail at it?

You stop trying.  You’re human.

What if you set a goal and consistently surpass it?

You keep going.  Before you know it you find that you are creating on a regular basis.

In order to help me with my goal, I am writing this on the first laptop I have ever owned.  It is my hope that the laptop will help me get more writing done.  I won’t be stuck to the desktop to get work done.  So far it seems to be working.

But ultimately we are busy.  We have work, family, friends.  But small chunks of time really begin to add up.  Before you know it you have a work of art that you can be proud of.  All while holding a day job, with family responsibilities.

The math examples are directed at writing, but the concept can be used for any sort of creative side project, photography, illustration, design.

And what happens when you finally publish that first picture, chapter book, or novel?

Well, your life changes.

And it changes for the better.

Teachers Should Write More Books

I know that several of you that follow this blog are teachers.  I also know from talking with you online and in person several of you are trying to write your own books.  And several of you have just thought about writing books.  If you have just thought about making a book but can’t think of an idea.  Get over it, start writing ,and make a book.  It will make you a better teacher.

Write a book just to see it here.  Trust me.  (P.S. image not from  my school library)

Write a book just to see it here. Trust me. (P.S. image not from my school library)

After years of teaching first grade, I was moved this year to teach fifth grade.  I was surprised that several of my students did not know about my Kevin books, because the first one is in our school library and it was mentioned on the school announcements.  I know.  How do they not know!
So recently I brought in a copy of Kevin and the Three-headed Alien, and I wrote the book with third graders in mind, but these 5th graders were competing to read one of the copies I brought to class.  A lesson learned is that in can be very hard to narrow a children’s book to a very specific age group.

Three-Headed Alien Paperback-1
My class asked if everyone could get a copy.  What a wonderful request.  A request that I cannot afford.  (Some how people seem to think I get the books for free.  Cheaper? Yes.  Free? No.) But with two copies in the class students have a waiting list to read the book.  You are missing out if you never experience that as a teacher.

To alleviate stress in the class I changed my lesson plan, (don’t tell my admin) and did a shared reading lesson on my own book.  I read the first chapters and the students made connections with the text.  They made personal connections with the text and made connections with other texts.
As a writer this is unbelievable access to how your market is connecting with your work. As a teacher I have engaged my students more. Now they are creating their own books in class. One student told me they were going to upload their book to Amazon. Engaging your students and inspiring them to create their own work is why more teachers should be writing.

P.S. I have another book out soon.  It would be great if you joined my mailing list.  If you are on the list you will get news of the new book first.  Don’t worry I don’t spam, I am too busy.  Click here to join the list.  Thanks!


Seriously, people go write those books.

Yet another selfish reason to publish part 2

I wrote earlier about a selfish reason to write.  I got another one.

Letters from fans.  Even fans that were probably required to write the letters to keep their teacher happy.

A teacher friend read Kevin and the Seven Lions to her class.  A few days later I got a envelope full of notes from first graders.  Seriously cool.

Seriously try this sometime.  It’s awesome.

Yeah, the dinosaur was okay.  Did you the see the Giant Squid though?!

Yeah, the dinosaur was okay. Did you the see the Giant Squid though?!

What are other reasons to write? Leave them in the comments.

Apps, Books, and Education

My daughter is 1.  We recently read One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish on my Kindle, an app by Oceanhouse Media.  Or more accurately the book was read to us by the app.
Right then an entire world opened up or more accurately worlds opened up.

This app let's readers choose between reading the text themselves and having it read to them.

This app let’s readers choose between reading the text themselves and having it read to them.

1.  Education

This app makes me happy as a teacher.  The ability to have the words highlighted as they were read, and then they can tap a particular word and have it read back to them.  What an amazing tool for early or struggling readers.  I found my self just tapping on different parts of the screen to see what it would say.  I stayed on several pages just exploring the text.  How many young readers do that as well, thus spending more time in the text.  I imagine kids with their tablets exploring a text by reading it and clicking on the illustrations to see more.  Great opportunities here.

2. Indie book publishing

Dr. Seuss wrote One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish in 1960.  His family still owns the copyright to it, and unless they sell it, they will own it for another 48 years.  (Dr. Seuss died in 1991.)

When you you write a book it begins as just a book.  But in reality it is an intellectual property that can be sold as hardback, paperback, or ebook.  It can also be packaged as an audio book.  Several different ways to bring income with the same property.  And if handled correctly it isn’t just income for you, it is income for your children and grandchildren.  Think about that.

3. Apps

If you write children’s books, like I do, you can also turn them into apps that students can explore.  I guess in theory you could turn an adult book into an app.  I’ll leave that up to other people.  Imagine though making a book, and then turning it into an app where students may interact with it even more than a paper book.  I’m seriously going to be looking into how this is done.  If you know how to do it, leave a note in the comments.

But turning your book into an app is a great exercise in intellectual property, you make one intellectual property sold several different ways, and you own that property for the rest of your life, and then your descendants own it for 70 years after your death.  The possibilities are amazing here, who knows what, in the future, digital ways we can sell an intellectual property.  Simply Awesome.


Sign-up here to get an email when my next book is ready.  I don’t spam.  I’m too busy to do so.

Indie Publishing a book as a writing assignment

By day I teach first grade, I don’t teach high school.  But I had this thought, could publishing a book be a good assignment for class?  Teacher’s rightfully check and grade student writing.  But once in the real world waiting for one person to grade us doesn’t really work, especially if you are a writer.  Writers, and other creative projects for that matter, are graded on how they are received by hundreds or thousands of readers and fans.  Not exactly the same sort of model presented in a classroom where one teacher tells you weather or not your book or writing works.  One person left a 3 star review of my book on Amazon saying that the story I wrote was boringly written, and that if I had I taken her class she would given me a C+.  Fair enough.  But I’m not in her class.

I got plenty of these in my lifetime.

I got plenty of these in my lifetime.

Other people have liked the book, does that make their feedback any less correct or worthy because they may or may not teach a class?

So I didn’t please the reviewer.

But the review got me thinking about grading and gatekeepers.  I know, a strange combination.

In the working world, if writing was their job, students could be in a situation where pleasing just one person, i.e. a boss.

But pleasing just one person isn’t where the 21st century is headed.  Students will need to know how to relate to hundreds or thousands of different people.

Trying to please many different unknown bosses, i.e. readers, is a much more difficult challenge.  How do you know what thousands of people will like and want to read?  It maybe easier to please just one person.

Here’s why I think it would be an interesting idea for an assignment.

1. The students are creating.

2. The students are writing.

3. The students should be communiating with others to edit and proof their work.

4. Students should be showing good digital citizenship by marketing their book.

We need to prepare students to relate to large groups of people and not just one person.  How can we do that?  Thoughts?

Yet Another Selfish Reason to Write and Publish

There are many reasons to write and publish.  Many writers will suggest magnanimous reasons, high and mighty reasons.  There are plenty of selfish reasons to do so as well, nothing wrong with that.

I will suggest one selfish reason here.

Have a kid tell you they checked out your book from the library.

That’s an incredible reason to write and publish.

Write a book just to see it here.  Trust me.  (P.S. image not from  my school library)

Write a book just to see it here. Trust me. (P.S. image not from my school library)

For those that don’t know, I teach.  I teach first grade.  Yes, men, from time to time teach the younger grades, but that’s another post.

My school announced yesterday that my book was now available to be checked out from the library.  I had students ask if they could check it out.  I reminded them they already had a class copy and that others should be able to read it if they wanted to.

When going to lunch, a student from another class told me they had checked out my book.  That is a cool feeling, no way to describe it.

If you are teacher write your book, and then see what I am talking about.

Go do it now.

Step 1. Just start writing.

As people began to ask me about writing Kevin and the Seven Lions, several people said “Oh, I’ve always wanted to do that!” or “I want to do that but just can’t come up with an idea.”  The best advice I can think of for ideas, is just write.

 You want to write a book.  So write.

That’s how the book was born.  I just started writing.  This sentence came to mind “Kevin slept in class.”  That was the sentence that I first wrote down.  For the longest time the story didn’t have a name.  The story just sat in my hard drive as “Kevin slept in class,” because Word saves the first sentence of anything you write as the title until you change it.  “Kevin slept in class” as a sentence didn’t make it into the book, it was changed along time ago in some editing phase.  But the book was started by one simple sentence.  Don’t make it a big deal.

I know it sounds slight and condescending to say “just write.”  But it is what I learned in this process.  Don’t over think it, don’t think about what would the kids want to read or your audience.  Write what you would want to read.  Write for you.

Writing your own made up story should be fun.  If it isn’t, for crying out loud, stop.

Okay I’ve written something, but doesn’t someone have to publish it?

I originally shopped my story around to different agents and publishing houses.  More than anything I just wanted to learn how querying agents worked, maybe I could get some feedback.

I got nothing.  I lost count after contacting 20 or 30 something agents and houses.  It was a lot of work keeping track of who I sent the manuscript to and looking for people to send it to.  It was too much work, a spreadsheet was involved.

But now in the 21st century there are no more gate keepers.  

No one is going to come down from on high, lay hands on you and ordain you a writer.

And that’s a good thing.

If you are a teacher, like I am, you read a lot.  Reading a lot helps with writing.  Stephen King wrote in his book “On Writing” that writers need to read, a lot.  I read a lot of children’s books.  I mean a lot.  On an average, vanilla day, I read four different picture or story books.  That quickly adds up.

It is this math of books that lead me to writing a children’s book, as opposed to say a spy novel.  I do read lots of James Bond books, but I read more children’s books.  Lots more, it is a consequence of my job.

All that should help people that want to write a book, to well, write a book.

What if no one buys it?

So what if no one reads it.  Upload it to Createspace make a paperback and bring it with you to an interview, and automatically you stand out more than the other people competing for the same job.

Post it on Amazon, and then order a copy from Amazon.  Having the UPS man drop off one of those boxes with the smile on it, with YOUR book inside, is an awesome feeling.  I know, I took a picture of the box before I opened it.

Kevin and the Seven Lions in Amazon Box

Knowing that your book is inside of Amazon box is a pretty cool feeling. You should try it sometime.

But step 1 is, just start writing. The ideas will come.

Whoops. I wrote a book.

I wrote a book.  I am still surprised that.

Kevin and the Seven Lions

As Steve Martin once said something like “I always wanted to be considered an author, so I figured I needed to write a book.”

Thoughts are always better when it is attributed to someone more famous than you.

But let’s not get too crazy, it’s a 1100 word picture book.  The illustrations, which I didn’t do, are better than my writing.

But my little side project project has surprised me.  People told me they liked the book.  I thought people would pat me on the head and say “isn’t that cute.”  But they didn’t, they asked questions instead about how I did it.  I got asked a lot.  So I did a very 21st century thing and began a blog.

By day I teach, or I try to teach first graders.  And trying to teach for the 21st century is still a very anxious thought process.

But I will attempt to show how writing and publishing your own book, and education for the 21st century are connected.

I haven’t completely figured it out yet.  Luckily this is a blog.