Posted in 2017, Classroom, Reflection, Slice of Life

#SOL17 What Was Missing

The day began with 40 of us standing on the sidewalk in the bright morning sunshine. Some of us were old friends, some acquaintances, some new faces. But every single one of us knew, as evidenced by the excited chatter and anxious looks on faces, that today was the beginning of something special. Today was our first day together on our journey to become a new family and open the doors of our brand new school.

Our principal stepped to the front of the crowd and explained what was in place and what will be coming. And then, just like that, the doors were opened and we walked into the building for the first time.

To say we were impressed would be an understatement. The smells of fresh paint and newly laid carpet filled the halls. Each classroom was perfect, filled with new, modern furniture and more storage than one can even dream of having. Bright colors filled the halls.

I stood in my new classroom, taking in all of the newness, all of the potential, and all of the excitement. I quickly snapped a few pictures before we moved on, something to hold onto until it’s time to begin moving my own things in.


We toured the whole building that day: the art room filled with light, the enormous gymnasium with its gleaming wood floors, the skeletal framework of a future playground.

But for every single one of the amenities and all of the promises the new school held, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was missing.

That night, when I told my own kids that I had seen the new school, my son requested to see the pictures of where he will attend kindergarten this fall. I scrolled through my phone, showing them the rug and the tables and the bookshelves.

“But….that’s not a classroom!” my 5-year-old son protested, flipping through the pictures once again.

“Of course it is!” I replied. “See? There are bookshelves, and tables, and a rug…”

“But, Mommy,” he said, “How is it a classroom? It’s missing all the kids!”

And there it was: the truth I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Even with state-of-the art facilities and a staff of teachers who can’t wait to move in and set up our new classrooms, it just isn’t quite a school just yet.

A school doesn’t become a school until it is filled with children. And I can’t wait to be there in August when they arrive!


I’m excited to join other writers every Tuesday (and daily during the month of March) in 2017 to participate in the Slice of Life writing challenge through Two Writing Teachers. Read all about how you can Write. Share. Give. on their website here.

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I’m excited to join other writers every Tuesday (and daily during the month of March) in 2017 to participate in the Slice of Life writing challenge through Two Writing Teachers. Read all about how you can Write. Share. Give. on their website here.

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Posted in 2017, Slice of Life, Summer

#SOL17 Vacation Countdown

I awoke just a few minutes after 6:00 last Thursday morning, the second of our three cancelled school days due to flooding, to a whisper directly in my right ear, “Are we going to take my ba-jammies on vacation, Mommy?” I assured her that we would not forget to pack her pajamas.

On Friday, she asked where our dog will stay while we’re gone. I promised her he’ll have a great time relaxing with Grandma and Grandpa.

This morning her teachers asked me about vacation at drop-off, telling me that she’s been chattering nonstop about a pool and a beach. She confirmed this story tonight while I relayed it to my husband, adding that she’s also told all of her 3-year-old friends.

Maybe you shouldn’t have told her you’re going, my mom commented.

She’s going to drive us crazy, my husband warned.

True, I admitted to each of them. True.

But, even though the end of June is awfully far away, isn’t half the fun of vacation the time you get to spend looking forward to it?


I’m excited to join other writers every Tuesday (and daily during the month of March) in 2017 to participate in the Slice of Life writing challenge through Two Writing Teachers. Read all about how you can Write. Share. Give. on their website here.

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Posted in 2017, Slice of Life

#SOL17 An Unexpected Decision

Today was a beautiful day. Sunny with light fluffy clouds that floated across a bright blue sky. A cool breeze and high temperatures that barely hit 70.

Anyone watching our kids run freely across the playground at recess would have been shocked by the calls and texts and emails that lit up our phones right before dismissal.

All of our schools will be closed tomorrow.

Torrential rains over the weekend have caused our rivers to overflow, rising high above flood stage and displacing thousands of people. Homes have been destroyed. Neighborhoods are cut off completely. Major interstates are closed. People have been told by authorities to choose a side of the river before going to bed tonight because they will be stuck there for the foreseeable future. Some of our students and many staff members live on the opposite side of the flooded river, leaving us too short on staff to operate.

As teachers, we learn to expect the unexpected. However, never in my fourteen years of teaching would I have ever predicted I would be spending a day at home in May, waiting for “historical and unprecedented” flood waters to recede.

Posted in 2017, Classroom, Literacy, Reading, Reflection, Slice of Life

#SOL17 It Matters To Be a Teacher Who Reads

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I have been a voracious reader as long as I can remember. My childhood memories are full of long and happy hours spent with Clifford the Big Red Dog, my friends in the Babysitters’ Club, and everyone’s favorite female sleuth in practical pumps, Nancy Drew. Middle school was spent living through the terrors on R.L Stine’s Fear Street, followed by a graduation to the true horror of Stephen King in high school. Quite simply, I can’t remember a time when there hasn’t been a book on my nightstand.

As I started teaching, I would have told you I brought my love for books into the classroom. I filled my classroom library with fantastic reads, both new and classic–or, at least, I was told they were fantastic. Some I read as read alouds; others I skimmed to prepare for working with book clubs. But way too many of the amazing books on my shelves were never opened by me–and, therefore, never opened by my students.

Fast forward to two summers ago. After eight years in the classroom and four years as an instructional coach, I thought I had everything figured out. I loved literacy and everything related to reading and writing. I felt confident in my knowledge of good instructional practices. I had a shelf overflowing with amazing professional books and was regularly leading professional development around literacy.

But then I attended the ILA conference and the world shifted. As I sat there, immersed in literacy for four days, the margins of my notebook quickly filled with title after title of outstanding books. Someone handed me a copy of The One and Only Ivan. And I began to really read for the first time in a long time.

I spent the rest of that summer reading middle grade and YA novels, then continued throughout that school year. Last summer I participated in Donalyn Miller’s summer #Bookaday challenge, the stack of books on my nightstand constantly threatening to tip over. I signed up for the selection committee for our state’s book awards and subscribed to the Nerdy Book Club blog for regular updates of new and upcoming titles. I read books that made me laugh, books that have made me ugly cry, and books that have taken me completely out of my reading comfort zone. I have held my breath as Peter and Pax tried to find their way back to each other and mourned Ms. Bixby. Over the past two years, I have transformed myself into a model of the kind of reader I want my students to become.

And, I learned very quickly, it matters.

It matters because of the student who had a copy of Raina Telgemeier’s Sisters on her desk whose face lit up when I asked her if she’d also read Smile.

It matters because of the fourth grader who visits my office to chat with me about Charlotte’s Web.

It matters because of the first grader who stopped and talked to me about our favorite Dog Man book in the hallway yesterday afternoon.

It matters because of the fifth grader who raised his hand to get my attention during standardized testing last week because he wanted to tell me he started reading The Honorable Perry T. Cook after I read a chapter aloud in his classroom several weeks ago.

It matters because of the third graders who showed up at my office door to borrow Fenway and Hattie after I shared a chapter with their class.

It matters because of the teacher who asked to borrow Pax for a class read aloud after I used an excerpt in a training.

And it matters for my own children, who I can only hope are someday inspired by teachers who love to read, too.

Note: Just as I prepared to hit publish on this post, this fantastic piece by Pernille Ripp popped up in my inbox with some outstanding ideas on how to be a reading role model!


I’m excited to join other writers every Tuesday (and daily during the month of March) in 2017 to participate in the Slice of Life writing challenge through Two Writing Teachers. Read all about how you can Write. Share. Give. on their website here.

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Posted in 2017, Literacy, Reflection, Slice of Life, Writing

#SOL17 Stuck

After writing every day in the March challenge, I thought writing was getting easier.  But today…I’m stuck.

I want to write about my mom’s 60th birthday today and about all of the wonderful things she has done for me. I want to share my most precious memories and all of the ways I am thankful for having her in my life. But the words just won’t come.

I want to capture all of the precious Easter memories from yesterday, the looks of joy on my kids’ faces as they saw their Easter baskets and hunted for eggs and proclaimed the day to be “the BEST Easter ever.” But I just can’t put all of that into writing tonight.

I keep trying to sketch out the moment when my daughter, hands covered in melted chocolate Easter egg, decided to paint Simba on the inside of our car window “just like that monkey did in the Lion King.” But I just can’t seem to recreate that moment.

I wish I could reflect upon the testing that begins at school tomorrow, the hours of rehearsal and practice and tension and build up over the past weeks. But I don’t know what I would say.

Tonight I am just stuck. Maybe tomorrow will bring the right words my way.


I’m excited to join other writers every Tuesday (and daily during the month of March) in 2017 to participate in the Slice of Life writing challenge through Two Writing Teachers. Read all about how you can Write. Share. Give. on their website here.
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Posted in 2017, Reflection, Slice of Life

#SOL17 Dandelions

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I came home from class the other night to a gift. On the kitchen counter, neatly wrapped in a damp paper towel, were two vibrant yellow dandelions, collected for me by the kids during their evening walk with Daddy.

Today as I picked them up from school, my daughter glowed as she pulled another wilted dandelion from her cubby. Holding it up with pride, she practically exploded as she told me, “Look, Mommy! I picked it for you on the playground today and I putted it in some water but it broke. Do you love it?” I, of course, told her I did.

The gifts of dandelions from my kids are countless. On walks. As we get in the car. At the park. On the soccer field. There is no shortage of dandelions this season.

To most people, dandelions are just weeds. A nuisance.

But to me, they are a precious gift from my children. Beautiful. Selfless.

Imagine if…
My face didn’t light up when one of my kids picked one just for me.
I told them it was just a weed.
I compared it to other, more beautiful, flowers.

Years from now, my son and daughter might not remember what kind of flowers they picked for me. But they will surely remember how I received their gifts with open arms, a smile, and a thank you. They will remember that I saw their generosity, their love, and the effort they put into doing something special for their Mommy. And maybe, if I’m lucky, they will always be able to look at dandelions and see a thing of beauty.


I’m excited to join other writers every Tuesday (and daily during the month of March) in 2017 to participate in the Slice of Life writing challenge through Two Writing Teachers. Read all about how you can Write. Share. Give. on their website here.
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Posted in 2017, Classroom, Literacy, Reading

My #MustReadin2017 Update

At the beginning of the year, several bloggers I follow started posting their #MustReadin2017 lists, and I was instantly inspired. I traced their posts back to Carrie Gelson’s site There is a Book for That, where she extended an open invitation for readers to create, post, and share their own #MustReadin2017 lists. I combed through my Goodreads list, blogs, and the Nerdy Book Club’s 2016 Middle Grade Nerdies to compile the list I posted here, a total of 30 books I hoped to read by the end of this year.

Since then, a printed copy of this paper has sat on my 
desk, getting shuffled into one pile or another. Occasionally, I take it out, grab my blue marker, and cross another book off the list. Sometimes I refer to it while I’m on the library’s website to request a book when I’m out of inspiration (that doesn’t happen very often). Other times I look through the books I’ve already read and reflect on the ones I want to recommend to other readers.

This week, Carrie invited those of us who decided to participate to check in and share our progress. Much like the work we do sometimes with data, I immediately thought of just sharing my number: I’ve read 23 of the 30 books I challenged myself to read. A few of the remaining titles are on my nightstand currently. I’m waiting for a few more from the library.

But that doesn’t tell the story.

The story is that I love to read and I always have, but I also fall into pretty consistent reading patterns. I frequently get hooked on a particular author or series. I love realistic fiction, especially if it is dramatic. I do love to read middle grade and YA books, but shy away from fantasy and mystery and sports stories.

While this list didn’t completely push me out of my comfort zone, the story behind this check in is that it has done some powerful things for me as a reader:

  • It has pushed me to finish books I would otherwise have tried to abandon. The Inquisitor’s Tale and When the Sea Turned to Silver were amazingly-written books that were both highly recommended, but they were both out of my reading comfort/interest zone. I really had to push myself to not put them down–and I’m glad I didn’t.
  • It has kept me more focused. So often, I see a great book and mark it on Goodreads…and then forget it exists. Having this list in hand has kept some important books front and center for me the past few months.
  • It has helped me connect with other readers. Seeing the same books on someone else’s list automatically makes you feel connected with that person.
  • It has guided me to be a more committed reader. I already read voraciously, but this list has empowered me to become a little more committed to finding and reading particular titles. Knowing there would be check-in points throughout the year has supported me in not forgetting this list.

When I think about all of the benefits of participating in this community, I look forward to offering students the choice to create their own lists when I return to the classroom next fall. I can’t wait to explore the potential of adding this to my toolbox for building a reading community–and I can’t wait to knock out the remaining books on my own list in 2017!

 

Posted in 2017, Collaboration, Literacy, Reflection

The Reading Strategies Book, Goal 13: Improving Writing About Reading

When I first moved from teaching primary to intermediate grades almost ten years ago, I quickly adopted the practice of having students regularly write about their reading in the form of reading response letters. Every other week, each of my fourth graders was responsible for crafting a letter that demonstrated a deep understanding of something they were reading independently. I spend a great deal of time setting up elaborate systems of when the letters were due, how they were handed in and graded, and the precise formula of three structured paragraphs I expected to see. I spent an even greater amount of time reading each of these (mostly) poorly written letters and writing back to each of my students. I asked many of them to try again, truly believing that making them write more (mostly) poorly written letters would somehow improve both their writing and their reading.

Thinking back now, I feel like I should probably sit down to write each of them a perfectly structured, mostly formulaic three paragraph letter of apology to express how sorry I am that we all suffered through that experience. While my students did become better readers each year, I believe now that it had very little to do with the effort (or lack thereof) that they put into writing required response letters to me. Instead, I’ve since realized, their improvements in reading had everything to do with opportunities during Reading Workshop that were tailored to meet their needs, individualized, motivating, incorporated choice, and provided time to think deeply and share their thoughts about their reading with others.

That is what good writing about reading looks like. Goal 13 of The Reading Strategies Book provides 23 amazing strategies to help teachers support students with a variety of options for writing about reading.

“Teaching children to wrImage result for the reading strategies bookite well about their reading is about teaching them that their thinking about books matters.” (p. 350)

Writing about reading is a balancing act. Although we want our students to develop the habits of recording their thinking and fully developing their ideas around texts, the reading itself is always most important. Serravallo, citing Nancy Atwell (2014), emphasizes that writing about reading should be filled with choices: when to write, what to write, and how to write. Serravallo advises teachers to use caution when writing about reading with students in the primary grades, where the heavy focus should be on developing emergent reading behaviors. (A majority of the strategies in this chapter are most appropriate for students in upper elementary grades and middle school.)

According to Serravallo, strategies for writing about reading fall into several distinct categories:

  • Reflection about reading habits, history, and identity
  • In the moment writing that occurs during reading, mostly through the use of sticky notes and annotations to capture thoughts while engaged with the text
  • Longer writing to expand on ideas and develop deeper understanding through and across texts
  • Revisions to writing by revisiting previously-written responses to evaluate and improve upon their writing.

There are several instances in which focusing on writing about reading as a prioritized goal is appropriate. Some students may need to document their understanding of a text while reading in order to recall their thinking at a later time. Others may demonstrate strength as a writer but lack the ability to think deeply about their reading. Still others may need to focus on this goal when they are able to discuss a text at much higher levels than they can articulate their thoughts in writing.

As I think about the types of writing about reading I want to see in my own classroom, here are some of my favorite strategies from this goal:

13.9  My Reading Timeline  Students have an opportunity to reflect on their history as a reader and develop a visual representation of their life as a reader. This is a strategy I’ve used with young students, older students, and even teachers, and it is highly engaging and provides a great deal of information about reading identity.

13.6 What Can I Do With a Sticky Note? and 13.7 What’s Worth Keeping? Although these are two separate strategies, I like to pair them together. We all know that students who are just handed a stack of sticky notes will make good use of them–by using all of them. 13.6 focuses specifically on guiding students toward using sticky notes in meaningful ways. 13.7 builds upon this strategy by pushing students to reflect on the notes they have taken to determine what is useful for developing their understanding as readers and how they might further organize and develop these ideas in their reading notebook. Both of these strategies work well with whole or small groups and I’ve found that students often need repeated exposure to these ideas to be successful with using sticky notes while they read.

13.22 Idea Connections and 13.23 Pile It On These strategies are also very similar. In 13.22, students look across several of their best sticky notes from a text to look for connections, similarities, and differences. 13.23 builds upon this idea by asking students to collect all of the sticky notes on a common idea and synthesize them to demonstrate their thinking and share a new idea. Both of these strategies are for more advanced readers and will support taking students to much deeper levels of understanding as they read.

As I reflect on this chapter, I think what is most important is that it provides so many different options for supporting students in their writing about reading. Sometimes we want students to simply record their thoughts quickly on sticky notes, while other times we want to encourage them to sit down and really think on a deeper level about their reading and the meaning behind the text. This chapter supports both.

As you think through your own reading habits, your classroom work with writing about reading, and your work within this chapter, I’d love for you to reflect upon and share your thinking about some of these questions:

  • How do you record your ideas and write about reading as an adult reader?
  • What systems do you put in place to support your students in writing about reading regularly in your classroom? (In other words, what works for you?)
  • How do you make writing about reading authentic and meaningful for your students?
  • What strategies from Goal 13 have you tried? What has worked well with your students?

I can’t thank Croft’s Classroom enough for hosting this blogging book study of The Reading Strategies Book over the past few weeks. A fantastic collection of ideas, thoughts, lessons and resources for each of the goals have been shared by each of these amazing educators:

Goal #12 – A Teacher’s Ruminations
Conclusion – Crofts’ Classroom

If you haven’t read them already, make sure you check them all out!

 

Posted in 2017, Classroom, Literacy, Reflection, Slice of Life, Writing

#SOL17 Day 31: 31 Lessons in 31 Days (Part 2)

This is the third year I’ve participated in the March Slice of Life Challenge through the Two Writing Teachers, and I can’t believe what a powerful month it has been each time. As I sit here and reflect on what this month has meant, what I’ve learned, and how I hope it has changed me as a writer and teacher going forward, I’m going to spend the last two days reflecting on the 31 most important things I’ve learned by participating.

  1. You have to be forgiving of yourself when you don’t write. Just like any good habit, it Image result for finish line beginning of whole new racewon’t always happen. Life gets busy. I’m committing to continuing my writing, but I also know that I will only stick with this commitment if I learn to forgive myself during the busy times when I can’t always squeeze it in. Each day is a new opportunity to write–even if you didn’t yesterday.
  2. Writing is always a work in progressFor years we have used the Units of Study mantra “When you think you’re done, you’ve just begun.” Living as a writer has shown me just how true this is.
  3. Technology has taken writing to a whole new level. Without blogging and Twitter and Two Writing Teachers, I might never have found the right tools and forum to have the courage to write and share my work. Technology connects us in powerful ways. We can’t forget that.
  4. Incentives are great, but the prize is the writing. I love how TWT includes little challenges along the way to push our thinking and help us connect even more. But there’s no disappointment or discouragement if a prize isn’t part of the experience. My reward is the work I’ve done and the things I’ve learned along the way.
  5. Writing makes you a better reader. We know, of course, that the opposite is true–the more you read, the better you write. But I have also begun to notice over the past few weeks that I’m noticing the craft of the writing in the books I’m reading more than ever before. (This makes me think about cooking–how much better things taste when you know the effort and love that went into creating them.)
  6. Writing captures who we are, where we’ve been, and where we’re hoping to go. My writing this year isn’t like the writing I did last year. My writing next year will not be the same as the writing I’m doing now. Our lives change, we grow, and our writing lives on as a snapshot of our current reality.
  7. Developing myself as a writer will make me a better teacher of writing. I look forward to sharing with my students the power of being a writer myself, the challenges, and how I work to overcome struggles.
  8. Writing isn’t just something you do, it’s something you areI’ve always considered myself a teacher who gets to teach reading and writing. Now I love thinking about myself as a writer who gets to teach children how to write, too.
  9. Each new piece of writing is a blank slate. It doesn’t matter if the last piece of writing was prolific or if it was a tremendous flop. Every time I click the ‘Write’ button to start a new piece is a fresh beginning with endless options.
  10. Powerful messages aren’t always told with words. Some of my favorite posts this month that I have read have included powerful images. I have to constantly remind myself of the power of visual media and work on thinking of ways to incorporate this more into my own work.
  11. Writers support each other. Even more than just an audience, the other writers this month have formed a support system. I can’t forget that in my classroom–there is just something so powerful about knowing there are people out there who are waiting to read your work and willing to be your cheerleaders.
  12. Goals don’t have to be shared to be transformative. I’ve kept pretty quiet about this challenge to my family and friends. I haven’t talked a lot about making myself write every day for 31 days. At one time I think I kept it to myself because I was afraid of not making it to the end, but I really think it’s because this goal was so personal that I didn’t need a push from anyone else to help me achieve it. I completely owned this goal.
  13. It is so important to share the power of writing. For the past two years, I have tried this challenge alone and have been afraid to share with the people around me that I was doing it. Part of me was a little intimidated that someone I know might read my work, and part of me was worried that the people I shared it with would think I was crazy for wanting to take something like this on. This year, however, two of my teaching friends–a classroom teacher and our instructional technology coach–have tried the challenge with me, and I have loved sharing this experience with them. I can only hope that more people will join us next year!
  14. Sometimes you have to take the time to look back at how far you have come as a writer. Participating in this challenge for three years means that I have hit publish 63 times (plus a few here and there as I’ve done the Tuesday challenge). As I sit back and reread my very first post from 2015, I can see how much more confident I am, how much more committed I am, and how much writing has come to mean to me.
  15. I am a writer. I could easily say I’m too busy to write. I have two small children and a husband at home. I’m finishing my doctorate. I’m returning to the classroom. I lead PD after school. My kids have activities almost every afternoon and on the weekends. But in spite of all of that, I have made writing every day for the past month work somehow. And there’s no reason at all to think I can’t continue to write regularly. After all, not only am I a mother and a wife and a student and a teacher . . . I’m a writer.

I’m excited to join other writers every Tuesday (and daily during the month of March) in 2017 to participate in the Slice of Life writing challenge through Two Writing Teachers. Read all about how you can Write. Share. Give. on their website here.
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