Posted in Literacy, Reflection, Slice of Life

Slice of Life 2018 Reflection

Today marks the fourth year I’ve not only participated in the Slice of Life Writing Challenge through the Two Writing Teachers, but also the fourth year I have successfully completed the challenge.

The first three years I participated, I took the final day of the month to celebrate and reflect. After all, we all know the value of measuring our growth and marking accomplishments as educators. I wrote about what I learned, what I hoped, and what I planned to do with my experience.

And every year, I stopped writing shortly after the challenge.

Maybe life got in the way. Maybe I wasn’t into blogging that much after all. Maybe I was missing out on the audience that I had grown to depend on in the Slice of Life community.

Whatever the reason, in spite of my intentions, I stopped writing.

I can’t promise this year will be any different.

And yet.

This year I’m not stopping to celebrate, to acknowledge my month of writing.

I’m not listing all the things I did over the past month that I didn’t think I was capable of doing.

I’m not committing to writing on a certain day or on certain topics.

Instead, I’m closing this month as quietly as it began–as a writer who is always still a work in progress.

Until next time–may that be sooner, rather than later.

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

Slice of Life 2018, Day 29: What It’s REALLY About

Writer’s Workshop this morning looked the way it should look: 25 kids scattered around the room, some typing furiously while others wrote furiously across their pages.

Writer’s Workshop this morning sounded the way it should sound: typing, whispering, music playing softly (Harry Potter again) from the overhead speakers.

Writer’s Workshop this morning felt the way it should feel: energized, productive, positive.

But as I walked around to confer with students about their fantasy stories, I quickly realized that something was just slightly amiss. Something wasn’t the way I thought it should be. It took me a few conferences to figure it out: most of the fantasy stories my students were writing had fantastic characters, strong plot lines, great detail…and almost no fantasy to them whatsoever.

One girl was writing about a pair of friends who are split apart by the infringing friendship of a new girl. Another was writing about a pair of friends who have an argument that ends their friendship. A boy next to them wrote about a day with no wifi.

Where is all the creativity? I wondered. Where are all of the things I’ve taught them?

We’ve worked with two questions over and over in reading and writing across the school year: What is this about? What is this really about? I paused and asked myself these same questions.

What is this writing experience today about? I thought it was about writing fantasy…

What is this writing experience today really about? It was about developing a story arc. It was about including dialogue and developing characters through action and conflict. It was about focusing in on small moments and making them seem authentic to readers. It was about finding the joy in writing and expressing oneself through written words.

On that note, today’s Workshop wasn’t quite so “off” after all. My students were learning–just as they should in a workshop setting–in their own way and at their own pace. And they taught me something today as well: the value of remembering to look beyond the obvious to focus on what’s really at the heart of learning.

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

Slice of Life 2018, Day 28: What I Read

They rushed into our classroom first thing this morning, backpacks heavy, smiling widely. Both girls instantly made a beeline for me, seeking me out ahead of their classmates.

“Mrs. Valter!” The first one announced, words tumbling out of her mouth as she paused to catch her breath. “You’ll never guess how many books I read over Spring Break!”

I know this reader. I know the time she puts into reading, and I know the types of books she usually tackles–thick fantasy stories, the kind you can get lost in for hours.

“Five?” I guessed.

“How’d you know?” Her face lit up even more as she showed me her stack of books while she hauled them out of her bag, incredibly proud that she’d finally read Twilight.

The other girl grinned. “You’ll never guess what I read!”

I paused for a few beats, knowing she would tell me before I could even begin to guess.

“I reread some of the Harry Potter books!” she exclaimed (not a surprise at all).

Then it was my turn to tell them what I read over break and how many books I had finished. While we chatted, I marked my books off on the #MustReadin2018 list that’s taped to the window behind my workspace, noting my progress and how far I still have to go to meet my own goal.

As they went about their day, I paused to wonder: How can I get all of my students this excited about reading? How can I build this kind of relationship with every single reader in my classroom?

While I know I may never reach 100%, I also know I won’t stop book talking, sharing my reading life, or listening when they share theirs. Just because I might not reach them all today or this week or this year doesn’t mean I’ll ever stop trying. After all, you never know which day they will wake up and realize they, too, are readers.

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

Slice of Life 2018, Day 27: My Writing Identity

This morning, fresh off of Spring Break, I stood in my classroom as our Writing Workshop time began and I watched. The melodies of the Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone soundtrack competed with the rain beating against our classroom windows to set the tone for fantasy writing. Some students were already lost in their own worlds, furiously typing or scribbling across their pages. Others let their eyes roam around the room, taking a few minutes to think and plan. Some had worked on their stories over break. Others had forgotten we would even be writing fantasy stories when we returned. Each and every one of them, however, ended our “fast and furious flash draft day” having produced writing. Every single child, at their own pace and in their own way, wrote a piece of a fantasy story. And each one of them developed a bit of their writing identity today.

At the risk of sounding much older than my mid-thirties, I can’t help but think Why, back when I was in school… We didn’t have choice in our writing. We were taught the mechanics and the structure, but never the creativity or the passion. We sat in rows and outlined and drafted and made sure each paragraph met a specific set of requirements so that the teacher could easily assign a grade. We developed writing routines, but never reflected at all on why we wrote and who we were as writers–or who we could become.

As I think about myself as a writer today, I realize that my writing identity is still a work in progress (as I believe almost all writers must think). Yet over the past four years, since beginning the Slice of Life Challenge, I have realized many truths about myself as a writer and my writing identity:

  • I seldom write out my predraft ideas, but I rehearse them endlessly. I catch myself playing with words and ideas in my mind all day long. I plan out my writing in the shower, during my drive home, and while I put my kids to bed in the evening. By the time I sit down to write, I almost always have the words I want to begin with waiting on my fingertips.
  • Revision is not my strength. Though I always reread my work, I rarely make any drastic changes. Maybe this can be attributed to my rehearsal process, or maybe just my overall stubbornness. Whatever the reason, this is a part of the writing process that I know I have to focus on most heavily as a writer because it simply does not come naturally to me.
  • I am a late night writer. Late in the evening, once the kids have gone to bed and the house begins to quiet down, I am finally able to sit down and write. This is where I release the ideas that have been building all day and capture the stories I don’t want to forget.
  • I, like all writers, thrive on feedback. I’m incredibly shy about letting my family and friends read my writing, but Slice of Life has shown me the power of building a writing community and having critical friends review your work and provide support. This is a gift I really focus on passing on to my students, regularly setting aside opportunities for them to blog and share their writing with peers.
  • I have so much to learn from other writers. The more I write, the more I know I need to grow. I feed this need regularly by reading others’ blogs, reading published books and magazines, and thinking critically about where I am as a writer and where I want to grow.
  • Writing is an act that requires routine and dedication from me–and is worth every moment. Life has a way of becoming overwhelmingly demanding and busy, and writing is often the first thing to take a backseat for me (or to be pushed out of my life altogether). However, as I once again turn my focus toward writing and the joy and fulfillment it brings to me throughout the month of March, I realize that writing is more than just something I do; being a writer is something I am.

I have taught children to write for a long time now, and I myself have been learning to write for much longer than that. As I think about all of the things I have done–and all of the writing my students have created–writing identity is at the center of everything. It keeps us focused, helps us get through the difficult parts, and gives us a vision for where we want to be.

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Posted in Classroom, Literacy, Reflection, Slice of Life

Slice of Life 2018, Day 26: From Now Until the Last Day (Back to School Promises)

Tonight is the last night of Spring Break. I’m already missing the lazy mornings, the time to read and write, and especially the time with my kids and husband.

The weeks leading up to Spring Break were a challenge. Report cards were due, final papers had to be written, and drama between students seemed to be nonstop. I was worn out and my patience was worn thin.

As I step back into my classroom tomorrow, I realize I have a choice to make. Testing is coming. Spring is coming. The end of elementary school is coming for these kids. And I have a huge role to play in all of it. The question, then, is this: How do I want our classroom to be from now until the end of the year?

In thinking and reflecting for the past few days, I’ve made some promises to myself:

  1. Don’t forget that they are kids. This seems so easy, yet so many of them want to act older, feel older, look older than just ten or eleven. So often they are venturing into conflicts that are adult in nature, yet they are dealing with these issues like kids. I can’t forget that they are just children, even when they don’t seem to want to be anymore.
  2. Let them make mistakes. It’s difficult to step back and not intervene when you can see what is going to happen. Mistakes are messy and complicated, yet they are necessary. So, with that in mind, I need to allow more mistakes to happen in my classroom and trust that it will all work out better than OK in the end.
  3. Focus on the learning, not the test. No teacher will tell you that this is the best part of the school year. It seems that everyone gets a little anxious as mandated testing gets closer and closer. Yet I’m working every day with a group of learners, not a classroom full of test takers. In my heart, I know they will do well on the test if they have learned this year. I just have to keep learning as my why and the rest will fall into place.
  4. Focus on the “forgotten” kids. The school year is almost over and as I head back to school I realize that there are still a few kids in my classroom that I have not gotten to know as well as I should. These kids need to be my focus over the coming weeks–especially since these may be the kids who need to build a positive relationship with an adult more than anyone else.
  5. Have fun and play. Spring brings mixed-up schedules, special events, and lots of excitement and anxiety about the coming summer months. As I think about this time of the year, I want to make sure it is a celebration of the work we have done together since August and an acknowledgment of how much each child has grown, not a countdown of the days until we are “rid” of each other and the routines of school. I promise to keep my sense of humor, my desire for adventure, and my focus on these kids until the last day of school–after all, these kids deserve nothing less than my best.

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Posted in Literacy, Reading, Slice of Life

Slice of Life 2018, Day 21: WWW Wednesday

Last week, Tammy at Tammy’s Reading/Writing Life shared WWW Wednesday. This was new to me, so I had to check it out when I saw that she was writing about books. I love the open format and I’ve finally had some time to read over the past few days since we’re on Spring Break, so I’m excited to give this a try today!

1. What Did You Read Last?

Since Spring Break started last Friday, I’ve finished the following books:

  • Turtles All the Way Down, by John Green. I was hesitant to pick this one up turtles.jpgbecause I’ve read some mixed reviews about the pacing of the story from some readers I really respect. However, I’m really glad I decided to give it a try anyway. Like the other Green books I’ve read, this one was also full of intrigue and hope for the happy ending that probably wasn’t going to come. This combination mystery/exploration of mental illness left a lasting impression on me.
  • Granted, by John David Anderson. I fell in love with Anderson’s work when I read Ms. Bixby’s Last Day and again when I read Posted. While Granted is granted.jpgcompletely unlike those stories–it’s a fantasy story focused on the wish-granting journey of a fairy–it still brings to readers the same depth of character and life experiences as his previous two novels. This story was beautifully written and I’m glad it was the first middle grade novel I tackled during my time off.
  • Out of the Dust, by Karen Hesse. I picked up this novel because it’s on my school’s list of titles for Battle of the Books this year, and I wasn’t out of the dust.jpgdisappointed. It’s  a heartbreaking novel in verse, raw and full of emotion. I walked

    away from this one not only feeling like I had been on a journey with the main character but also like I had a glimpse into a part of our country’s history that I never knew about before.


2. What Are You Currently Reading?

I’m working through my #MustReadin2018 List, and am currently reading these two middle grade novels:

  • Me and Marvin Gardens, by Amy Sarig King. I’m currently about halfway marvin gardens.jpgthrough this book, and while it took me awhile to get into the story, I’m beginning to appreciate the messages about friendship, loyalty, and respect this book holds for readers. I’ve also gotten to the point where I can’t predict the ending and I’m anxious to find out how everything turns out!
  • The Problim Children, by Natalie Lloyd. I’ve read a few other books by Lloyd, and am always captivated by her approach to fantasy and magicproblim children.jpg. Right now I’m about 40 pages into this middle grade novel and am still trying to keep the many characters apart.


3. What Are You Reading Next?

Several books have spent quite awhile gathering dust waiting to be read on my nightstand. These titles are up next this week:

night gardener.jpg      smell.jpg

What books are you reading during Spring Break? Please link or share ideas in the comments!


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Posted in Literacy

Slice of Life 2018, Day 20: The Clouds Cried

Tomorrow morning, after 10 weeks visiting the US, my husband’s parents–Mima and Papa to their grandkids–leave to fly back home. That meant today was the day of goodbyes.

They arrived at our house in their usual fashion this afternoon–loud, bearing candy and toys, almost larger than life. They played with our kids and spoiled them for a few final hours. Then the time came.

It’s almost a routine now, a way of life that has been in place far beyond our kids’ six and four years of life. The goodbyes, the hugs. The knowing that it will more than likely be six months before returning. Six months of the kids changing, growing, and learning.

Six months means our kids will finish kindergarten and preschool and develop tans that even the strongest sunblock can’t prevent. Six months means missed dance recitals, swimming lessons, and school Grandparents’ breakfasts. Six months might even mean a first lost tooth or taking the training wheels off a bicycle.

My mother-in-law held each of the kids close for a final moment, soaking in their youth, their energy, their love. Then she turned to go, eyes dry as always.

She told me she doesn’t often cry. Though I can’t begin to understand her, to figure out why, I know it’s true. She won’t cry in front of the children, even though it must break her heart every time she has to get on that airplane and fly away again.

Today, after letting go of the kids one last time, she walked out of our house once again. Though she leaned on her cane, her head was held high as she crossed our porch and stepped out into a downpour. Torrents of rain splashed her shoes, ran down her umbrella, soaked the edges of her pant legs as she slowly made her way to the car.

It was almost as if the clouds were crying for her.

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Posted in Literacy

Slice of Life 2018, Day 18: Good Job

After our usual dance classes and hockey lessons and quick Saturday lunch, we stopped today at a local used sporting goods store to pick up a few items my son needs to play his first 4-on-4 league in a few weeks. We split up, my husband taking Sebestyen to look at hockey equipment while I went next door to a department store with Szofia to browse.

It was less than 20 minutes later when we met back up, and it was obvious things were Not. Going. Well.

Sebestyen was in tears–not injured tears, not sad tears, but the angry kind that means a tantrum is in the works. He seldom throws tantrums, but when he does it isn’t pretty.

We switched kids, leaving me standing by the door of the department store with a wailing six-year-old while Daniel and Szofia went to pay for our small purchase. He was almost inconsolable, explaining about wanting to buy something and Daddy telling him no. I talked to him calmly, softly, firmly, letting him know his behavior wasn’t acceptable and that he would not be buying anything at all today. His wails only got louder, his anger greater. But I didn’t budge.

Soon enough, Daniel and Szofia exited the checkout and headed for the door. We switched kids again, Daniel leading Sebestyen out while I took Szofia’s hand. As I pushed on the door to leave the store, a voice behind me called out.

“Ma’am!” A woman, about my age, paused her cart behind me as she got my attention. She smiled, connected with me. “You’re doing a good job, Mama.”

I smiled what must have been an exhausted smile at her, grateful to be noticed, to be acknowledged, to be supported–especially at a low moment.

This leads me to wonder: How often do we reach out like this to others?

How often do we walk by the classrooms of our colleagues to tell them we notice they’re doing a good job?

How often do we tell the parents of our students they’re raising good people?

How often do we tell our spouses they’re doing a great job parenting alongside us?

And how much better would our world be if we reached out just a little more often to say “Good Job!” with no strings attached?