Wednesday, August 16, 2017

One Race: Human. What we Need to Teach our Students

Teaching Students about racism
Sometimes, in this country, I feel like a stranger in a strange land.

I can usually wrap my head around the thinking of people whose views are different than my own.
I may not agree with them.

But I get where they're coming from.

Not so much anymore.  And, after the events in Charlottesville this past weekend, I don't want to pick my jaw up off the floor.


Nope, I want to go, with renewed commitment, into my classroom, and gently remind and demonstrate through my actions, that labels we put on each other are just that.  Labels.  Labels can be good, but they can also divide.  We need to remember that we are all people, allowed to share this amazing planet we live on, for however brief or long a time as we get to spend here.  And we are strengthened when we work with, not against each other.  Our race, gender, religion, sexuality, or political views demonstrate that we can be unique.


We are needed, now more than ever, to teach that message to our students.  Our strength as a society comes when working for "we" becomes more important than working for "me."  We need to be explicit in our teaching and not be afraid to address racism by name.  We can not let fear, which is most often based on ignorance, rule the day.  We are better than that.  And our students need to hear from us.  Because maybe, this is the only place they're hearing it.


  • Pernille Ripp shared this google docs to her Passionate Readers group on Facebook.  It was put together by several people in response to the events in Charlottesville.  Please download it for a source of good articles and thoughts about how to address this with your children or students.
  • Mary Ramming Chappell of The Librarian's Literature Links posted this video about the book, Let's Talk about Race.  It looks like a great book, worth reading with elementary children.  

P.S.  Although I've searched online, I do not know the graphic artist who created the picture above. If you should happen to know, please comment below, so that I can give credit where it's deserved. Thanks!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Why your students should read Echo: a video review

Video review of Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan
Have you ever read a book where you marveled about how the author came up with the ideas?  I admit, I do that pretty often, but nothing like how I felt when I read Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan.  My word!

The author has managed to intertwine five different stories: a fairy tale and four different historical fiction stories.  What’s the common thread?  A harmonica.  Yup, you read that correctly.  And if that doesn’t sound interesting, trust me when I tell you that some of your upper elementary or middle school students will be completely blown away by this book.

I hope your students enjoy it as much as my students and I have!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Five Fantastic Ways to Make Flexible Seating Happen in your Room!

flexible seating,6th grade, middle school
There have been a number of Facebook posts recently from teachers moving from primary grades to sixth grade.  One of their big concerns is how to arrange a classroom for older students, who are still kids in many ways.

I have a few pictures of the way I've set up my classroom the past few years which you can see here. This year, I'm going to have the students design the classroom on the first day.  It's Project-Based Learning at its best!  Starting in randomly-assigned groups where they'll have a few minutes to introduce themselves, they'll start talking and planning what our room should look like.
  • Want desks at full-size?  Great!  
  • Should some be lowered so they can sit on the floor and work?  Okay!  
  • What about the kidney table?  
  • The bungee chairs, the pillows, the soccer chairs?
  • They'll get to decide

It'll be interesting to see what they come up with!  They'll have to present their ideas to the class and then together, we'll come up with a workable plan.  To be honest, I keep trying to talk myself out of this, but part of me keeps coming back to it.

In the meantime, here are some posts from other teachers who have blogged about how they've arranged things.  See if you can find some good suggestions here!
Simply Secondary also had some great ideas!

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Three riveting World War II novels for upper elementary students

historical fiction, novels, reading, middle school, The Boy at the Top of the Mountain, Projekt 1065, The War that Saved My Life
Historical fiction is sometimes a tough sell for upper elementary students.  It's not that they don't like the ideas, it's that it often takes a while to establish the setting, and not all students are willing to wait that out to get to "the action."
This summer, I grabbed two unfamiliar books off my classroom shelves to read, hoping to get students as excited about them as they are about The War that Saved My Life.  I hadn't realized until I read them that both of the others were also about World War II.  All three books are very different from each other, but there are some common threads in the ways the characters grow, despite obstacles.
Projekt 1065: A Novel of World War II by [Gratz, Alan]Michael, born in Ireland, now lives in Germany with his parents because his father is the Ambassador to Germany.  Michael's mother, with his father's blessing, works for the Resistance movement. Having witnessed the cruelty of the Nazis, Michael is willingly pulled into being a spy.  But he has to keep up pretenses, so he goes to school with German boys, burns books, and joins the Hitler Youth. This action-packed book, which may read a little fantastically to adults (it reminded me in some ways of the Alex Rider series) will keep students sitting on the edge of their seats.  Filled with enough suspense, action, and questions about friendships and trust - as well as short chapters! - students will want to keep reading this.
I like that Alan Gratz slips in historical information about World War II without students even knowing it.  For example, I wasn't aware that Projekt 1065 was Germany's plan to build a turbojet plane (all planes were propeller planes up to that point).  The book also provides an accurate depiction of what it was like to be involved in the Hitler Youth program.
The Boy at the Top of the Mountain by [Boyne, John]John Boyne has written a complementary story to that of his famous book, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.   That one broke my heart.  This one left me with a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I didn't like it, but that doesn't mean it didn't move me.                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Pierrot lives in Paris with his French mother and German father, a man broken by his war experiences in World War I.  Eventually, his parents separate and after several years of living with his mother, she passes away from tuberculosis.  Pierrot goes to live with his father's sister, a woman who works as a housekeeper in a home on top of a mountain, which is used as a retreat house.  By Adolf Hitler.  
Although he is only there for brief periods of time, Hitler befriends Pierrot (renamed Pieter to sound more German).  And Pieter craves his attention, taking on the zealotry and bigotry that Hitler expounds on.  I couldn't put this book down although I wanted it to go in a very different direction than it did.  There are some powerful lessons here about how easily we can be taught to hate, especially if those messages come to us at a young age.

This would be a great read for someone interested in this time period but it does require a more mature, thoughtful student.  There's nothing graphic.  It just takes a different point of view from many other historical fiction novels about the Holocaust.
Product DetailsThis book has become one of my favorite read-alouds the past few years.  Unlike other historical fiction books which take time to develop the setting first, this one starts off with a bang!  Students will be horror-struck by the way Ada's mother treats her because she was born with a clubfoot.                                                                                                                                                                       This perfect book to teach Growth Mindset is filled with adventures of a new kind.  Ada has been kept a virtual prisoner in her apartment and she emerges (spoiler alert!) by running away with her younger brother Jamie, who's being evacuated from London when the fears of London being bombed by Germany caused many children to be sent to the country to live with relatives.  Or strangers.

Ada and Jamie end up with Susan, a woman who doesn't really want to take them in, and declares herself "not nice."  And yet, her actions prove otherwise, and slowly but surely, each of the characters grows a little more friendly, a little more vulnerable, and a little more compassionate.  Ada's slow evolution from frightened child to more confident young woman is one that will have your students cheering her on.  What a beautiful book! 

There is a scene late in the book that always surprises my students (it did me too, the first time I read it.)  Honestly, it's worth reading out loud just to see the look on your students' faces at that point.  The fact that they're so hooked into Ada at that point shows what a brilliantly written, honestly felt book this is.

I have create a novel study, and a word search and crossword puzzle for this book, which you can find at my TpT store.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Social Media: Why you should take advantage of Tailwind and tribes

Tailwind, Tailwind Tribes, Social Media
At last year's TpT conference, I  became sadly aware that my presence on social media was pretty nonexistent.  When I got home, I dove right in. Start an Instagram account?  Yup!  Create a Facebook page for my business?  Yup! Start pinning?  Yup!
It was summertime, after all.
And then the school year began....

Where should you spend most of your time?  Instagram, Pinterest or Facebook?  You can't judge them in the same way because they serve very different purposes.  But which is best for you?

  • Puts your information out to a large group of people.  If it happens to catch a lot of their eyes, hopefully they'll share it - that's how things go viral.  
  • Lasts a short while. Think of how much feed is above the first post you read when you've spent half an hour there!


  • Visual and quick.  
  • Great way to share your products and a little bit about yourself - combine some product pictures, some personal photos, and a few thoughtful or funny quotes and you're good to go.  
  • To keep people engaged, you need to have clear and engaging visuals 
  • Post a couple of hashtags that allow others to find you.  
  • Post regularly.  Like multiple times a day.  


  • Slow moving, but has longer staying power.  
  • Different purpose - people don't use it to see what their friends are doing.  
  • Search and discover tool
  • Because people pin and oftentimes come back later to look at their pins, there's a shelf-life for pins that doesn't exist in the same way for Facebook and Instagram.

That difference taken me a year to figure out.  While my results will be different than yours, when I look at my analytics on TpT, Pinterest is always second behind TpT.  It makes sense to spend most of my limited time there.

So how does Tailwind fit in with Pinterest?

  • Tailwind is an "organizer" app that allows you to pin relevant pins, days, weeks, or months in advance.  
  • You receive pinning time recommendations based on your past history.  
  • You can pin as few as a couple of pins a day to over 100.  Don't go crazy!  I adjusted my numbers a few times before I found that 15 pins a day worked for me.  
  • If you want to take advantage of Tailwind, here's my referral link which will you give a free month's trial.  Tailwind also pins to Instagram now, so you can try that feature, too.

Tailwind Tribes should be a no-brainer!

  • They are free 
  • . Tribes vary by topic or grade level and most expect that you'll pin as many other peoples' pins as you post of your own.  
  • The beauty of tribes is that you benefit (and add to) the collective reach of your pins. Which means that your pins could get in front of thousands, or ten or hundreds of thousands of people you don't normally have access to.  
  • If you're not part of any tribes right now, ask on Facebook if you can join some.  Most tribes are open to having new members.

Remember: your goal is to have more time to create and revise products, not to be working on marketing.  It takes time to create a presence on each of these social media apps so pick the one that works best for you and spend your energy there!

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Tutorial: Using Keywords to Promote Your Blog posts

keywords,search engine optimization, SEO, blog posts

Keywords.  Keyword stuffing.  Search engine optimization.  The importance of using keywords. There is a ton of stuff out there on this topic!  Early on, I figured I was too busy creating new products to worry about what they were or why I should even think about them.  But this summer, I've been reading and listening to folks as they talk about this and I've come to realize it's not that hard and it doesn't take that much time to do.

And it's very, very valuable.  It takes a little bit of thought, and then it's pretty easy to do.

This is for beginners, and I hope what you read here will help put your products and blog posts in front of more people.  So, let's start at the very beginning (the very best place to start.) Sorry, I come from a family that bursts into song when any random synapse starts firing.

What are Key words?  
Think for a moment about who purchases your products.  What does that person look like?  For me, my products are primarily ELA, for 4th-8th graders.  So my teacher would most likely be an upper elementary or middle school teacher.  Now, what words would that teacher be using if he or she was looking for say, one of my novel studies?  Lit circle?  Novel studies? Books for small groups?  Those are the words I want to make sure to include in my key word search.
Where do you insert key words?keywords, search engine optimization, SEO, blog postsi
Everytime you insert a picture into a blog post, you want to link that picture to key words.  If you ask people to pin your blog post, you don't just want the title to be "search-worthy" but also the pictures. And it's easy to do.  

Insert the picture where you want it and click on Properties.  That will bring up this screen.

keywords, search engine optimization, SEO, blog posts
In the alt text box, type in the key words you want to use.  You don't need to write a sentence, just write the words, separated by commas or /.  Don't overdo it - that's "keyword stuffing" and can result in bad stuff happening.  Two, three, or four words or phrases should be more than enough.

Anywhere else?
One final place, and that's in your blog post settings.  I use blogger, so I don't know how it works on other platforms, but I assume you can find it in your settings.
When you click on this, it opens a box that lets you type.  Once again, keep it simple.  Think of what someone would search for if they were looking for your blog post.

And that will get you started!  If you've found other tips that work for you, please share.  I'm truly at the beginning of this learning curve!

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Saturday, June 17, 2017

Powerful nonfiction books to read with your students

Four nonfiction books that will grab your students' attention and keep them reading.
I love read-aloud time in my classroom.  It's one of my favorite things to do.  No strings attached, an occasional question asked, but mostly this is time for kids to sit back and listen to good books and fluent reading.  

I try to stretch their reading interests.  You think you only like realistic fiction?  Listen to this historical fiction book!  Or what about this science fiction one?  

I love history and sharing background historical information with students to flesh out their understanding of something they're reading, but I'd never read nonfiction books aloud to them.  Until this year.  Here are four books that are worth reading to your upper-elementary and middle school students.
Nonfiction read aloud
Caitlin's choice of a penpal in Zimbabwe, because it sounded more exotic than countries in Europe, changed her life.  She began an unlikely friendship with Martin - unlikely because of the distance, socioeconomic differences, and that their friendship had to be maintained by writing letters.  On paper.  With a pen or pencil.  As unlikely as that seems, they exchanged letters for six years, learning a lot about each other and themselves in the process.  Chapters alternate between Caitlin's and Martin's points of view.

Nonfiction read aloud
This book won the vote for next read-aloud, between several nonfiction books, with one of my classes.  This is the story of eight men who (like Amelia Earhart, my students reminded me) couldn't find the island they were supposed to land on in the Pacific Ocean, during World War II.  On board their plane was VIP Eddie Rickenbacker (a name I wasn't familiar with, but a hero of both world wars) The plot moves more slowly because the men spend a lot of time in rafts on the ocean, but their struggles with hunger, thirst, and sharks, makes it a compelling read.  A few girls started to get impatient with the book midway through ("Are they going to survive?") but most students stayed pretty glued.
This is one of my favorite books because Malala Yousafzai feels so approachable in her book.  She's not much older than my students and she, like they, has strong opinions about school.  Unlike my students, however, she nearly lost her life for expressing those opinions aloud.  Continuing to champion the rights of girls to have access to education, she went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize.  I have used this book in multiple ways over the years, including with small literature circles.  You can find the novel study for students to delve deeply into the book, here.
                                         Nonfiction read aloud
I picked this book up before I left for a quiet weekend get-away, thinking I might start to read it.  I couldn't put it down!  This is the story of NASA and the African-American mathematicians who performed the computations that helped engineers create flying machines - airplanes and later, rocket ships. Sound pretty dry?  Not at all!  These women worked at a time when most women didn't.  It is the story of civil rights, the Space Race, the Cold War, and gender rights. Powerfully told from the point of view of four women, its honesty and action will capture the interest of many students.  A novel study for students can be found here.

I hope you get the chance to read some of these books this summer, so that you can recommend them to your students ~

Friday, June 9, 2017

The impact of technology on reading

Ever since reading Donalyn Miller's The Book Whisperer, I have challenged my students each year to read at least 25 books.  We practice building reading stamina, we talk about how busy life can get, and how hard it is some days, to find half an hour to read.  We explore places where books can be read and students come up with ideas like these: at a sibling's practice, in the car, waiting for everyone to get ready to go somewhere, or at a relative's house where there are no kids.  And every year, I'm always a bit surprised when the average number of books is over 25.  It's typically in the low 30's.

Until this year.

I had a feeling around Christmas that we weren't going to be close.  It wasn't just that some of my stronger students still said they didn't like to read.  Although they did like being read to!

There just wasn't an enthusiasm for books like I'd seen in previous classes.  I think that there's no such thing as an unenthusiastic reader, there's only a kid who hasn't found the right book yet.  But here it was, months into the school year, and there were more students than usual who were still feeling pretty ambivalent.  "Curl Up With a Book and Read" days helped, but stamina still wasn't where it could have been.

I had a hunch.  We went 1:1 with iPads this year.  I didn't want to believe it.  But students told me, when we talked about it.  Their iPads held much more draw than any book did.  They had no interest in reading on their iPads.  Reading took a back seat almost EVERY SINGLE TIME to pretty much anything-but-reading.

😓😞  Now that the school year is over, I'm wondering.  I'm still feeling a bit defeated.  Matching kids up with books and getting them excited about reading was a big part of my reputation!  

Here's the thing:  I love iPads!  I love what they can provide for students, and we use them daily in my room.  But at the expense of reading?

Have you noticed a change?  What do you do to keep kids reading?

Thursday, May 11, 2017

How will you TpT this summer?

As the school year winds down, I find myself thinking about all the projects my students worked on this year.  Good learning worked both ways!  My students had a variety of projects that engaged them and I learned what needed to be more clear and where I needed to add an additional step along the way.

I keep a list of projects I want to create for TpT, ones I want to tweak, products that need to be updated, good products that need better graphics or more exposure, social media sites I want to spend more time on....the list can get quite lengthy!

Here are some tips I use to help me stay organized and not feel overwhelmed.

Take Time for Yourself 
It's easy to get caught up in lists and "to-do's" and before you know it, school's about to start up again. Take time to reflect on this past school year.  Breathe.  Play with your kids or grandkids.  Wander. Think.  Read a book.  Sleep.  Garden.  Eat.  Get together with friends.  Run. Walk. Eat ice cream.  Lots and lots of ice cream.  Laugh.  Do yoga.

You'll be so much fresher when you do sit down to work. 
 Create lists
Everyone has their own way of doing this.  Figure out what works for you.  I jot notes everywhere because I'm afraid I'll forget otherwise - on my phone, post-it notes, in a notebook, on a pad of paper. Those get tossed (don't judge) on my desk.

Then, when I have time, I write them down in a notebook.  The pink one. 

I keep four folders on my computer:  Under construction: Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer.  I put all of my half-started projects and ideas there, and then when it's time to work on one, I know where they are.  Projects get moved if they need more time.  And sometimes I know I won't be able to work on something for a while - whatever the reason - and so it gets put in a later folder.  But that way, I don't lose what I've started.  Sometimes it's a Powerpoint I've started, sometimes it's just a title with a note to myself.
 Set a task and a timer
This is SO important!  I belong to a number of facebook groups, some of which support each other in a variety of ways.  It's so easy to get sucked into the vortex of "let me just check...."

Set a timer.  Work on social media.
Set a timer.  Work on a blogpost.
Set a timer.  Work on a product.
Set a timer.  Work on a graphic.

Whatever your goal is for the day, decide how much time you'll spend and commit to doing it.  That timer keeps you accountable!
It won't all get done (and that's okay)
I'm always surprised by how much longer it takes me to get something done than what I'd thought. I've had to make peace with that and you will, too.  Be happy with what gets done and move on.

I hope these tips help you get yourself ready for some creative time this summer!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Increasing empathy for visually impaired students with a book {and a freebie!}

Last year, a colleague and I received a grant to have all the students in 5th and 6th grades read the same two books.  We started with Fish in a Tree by Linda Mullaly Hunt, and now we're reading A Blind Guide to Stinkville by Beth Vrabel.

Blind Guide is a multi-layered story, the heart of which is found in Alice Confrey, a young girl with albinism.  I wasn't aware that people with albinism often have an eye condition called nystagmus, which causes their eyes to flutter up and down a lot, resulting in difficulty seeing.

To start off the book challenge, we asked a local organization, VisionCorps, which works with blind and visually impaired children and adults in our area, to visit our school.  They provided a safe place for our children explore the world of visual impairment and the tools people use to navigate the seeing world.

One of my students is visually impaired, although not from albinism.  His vision issues are quite similar to those of Alice's, however.  It was really beautiful to watch students gently ask to enter his world, so that through his explanations they could get a glimpse of what it felt like to see the world  like he does.

I created the study guide for A Blind Guide to Stinkville for my students to use as they read and discussed the book in small groups.  I'll be honest, I'm not a fan of "right there" kinds of questions, nor do I like to ask questions chapter by chapter.  The questions in the study guide require students to think more deeply about ideas in the book, using the text to support their responses.  For the most part, students are really enjoying the book!

....And now for the freebie!
Because I find my students talking about books so much, I decided to have them give book commercials this year, so that I wasn't the only person doing book talks.  I've finally gotten around to putting it into my TpT store.  Grab it and use it if you want!

Have a great rest of the week!

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Turn your classroom upside down: personalize learning

There were times when I wished I'd never shared this thought with my Assistant Principal.  When I wondered why (for the umpteenth time) I had not thought through all the things that would take place in my classroom this month.  When I was frustrated by how hard it was to plan out the details.  But something kept me going, despite knowing that this required a real, and somewhat uncomfortable shift in my thinking.

Personalized learning takes differentiated instruction and ramps it up a notch.  It allows you to tailor your instruction to each student's needs and preferences. There's no question that technology plays a big part in making it successful (and gives you grey hairs when apps or videos don't work as planned!) 
1.  Start with the end in mind
What's your Essential question?  What do you want students to take away from this set of lessons?  In my case, students were going to read several passages about taking care of the environment.  After some thought, I decided that I wanted each of them to come up with an Action Plan, something they could do at home, at school, or in the community, based on what they'd learned.
2.  How do you want each student to achieve that goal?
For me, this was the tricky part.  It's easy for me to do this when I'm in the front of the room for a little while.  Putting it all in their hands meant shifting my thinking.  My students come in all shapes and sizes when it comes to reading comprehension.  So they needed passages that were either leveled, or ones they could read or listen to.  Some students needed to evaluate what they read, some compared what they read with how they lived, while others used what they'd read as a model for the Action Plan they'd create.  To keep me sane in planning this, I create three unique groups.
3.  How do you get students to move towards that goal?
We use Schoology in our district, and that certainly made life easier.  Each direction, link, assessment, assignment, video or photo submission was placed there.  Schoology also lets you make an activity dependent on the completion of a previous one, so students have to complete assignments in the order you determine.

I created one folder for the entire set of lessons.  Within that folder were four subfolders, one for each of the topics/activities I wanted students to complete.  I created three different sets of plans, and assigned them to my three groups.  That's one nice thing about Schoology!  Within those folders, the format in each was consistent: first, clear and detailed instructions tailored to each student group. Then, links to articles to be read, videos to be watched, links to websites, etc.  There was a checkpoint with me in each folder.  Some students had to show me that hey had mastered concepts by the end of that folder; others started reading with me before I sent them off on their own.  Still others worked with me in an even more chunked format, until I felt they were ready to be successful on their own.
4.  The good, the bad, and the ugly
So, what was the outcome?  Well, there were some things that my students and I really liked, some that we didn't and still others that I would change.  Overall, I'm pleased with the outcome and it has taught me a number of things about the way my students learn.

My stronger readers loved that they could pace themselves.  My weaker readers didn't.  They wanted my help as they navigated through sometimes unclear words and thoughts.  Even though I worked with them through some of the steps, they didn't have the confidence to continue on their own.  Lesson learned.

I felt like there were lots of opportunities to confer with me, although some students had to wait a few minutes because I was working with someone else.  We have to get to a place of comfort that when they give me an indication that they need me to check on something, I'll be there in a few minutes.  Or, as in some cases, that I tell them to move ahead until I can get to them.

Giving up control was hard for me!  And for them.  But I think, with repetition, students will come to own their learning a little more this way.  It's worth doing again.  With a few modifications along the way, I'm already thinking about the next set of personalized lessons!

Have a great week!

Monday, February 6, 2017

TpT Sale Event!

Another opportunity to purchase products for up to 28% off!  Click here to see new products in my store.  And don't forget to use the code (I've done that!):  LOVETPT

Now, I'm going to go take a look at some more Kimberly Gewein Fonts.  I love her work!

Have fun shopping!

Monday, January 23, 2017

This is what democracy looks like!

Photo credit: Brent Johnson, Newark Star-Ledger

This post is not about whether you voted for Donald Trump or Hilary Clinton.  It's not whether you lean left, moderate, or right.  It is about how the power of democracy is in the hands of the people.

Some of my students asked if they could watch the inauguration of our 45th president on Friday.  As they asked, a few others booed.  
"No, we can't do that!"  I said to the students who booed.  "Regardless of whom you wanted elected, you still have to respect the office of the President of our country."  We talked briefly about ways they could show they were on board with policies (or not) in the classroom, in our school, our state, and our country.  When did we get so polarized?

I thought about that a lot when I got on the bus in front of my church, heading to Washington, D.C, with my daughters.  What does it mean to live in a democracy?  How can we safely express dissent in this country?  
This sign felt like my answer.  Our First Amendment rights allow us to disagree, and to do so publicly.  And so, people gathered.  In large cities and small, around the United States and the world.  And each was peaceful.  And that, is what democracy is supposed to look like.

 So, whether you agree with our President or not, and no matter which way you feel with his cabinet appointments (especially with Betsy DeVoss as Secretary of Education) whether you marched somewhere or you thought the marches were stupid, please exercise your right in this country.  You have the right to express your opinions.  Call your elected officials and let them know.  They're waiting to hear from you! 
I hope you have a good week!