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.
    slice-of-life_individual     

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

#SOL17 Day 30: 31 Lessons in 31 Days (Part 1)

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. Audience matters. Knowing that someone would read my writing every day was really important to me. I have thrived on comments from strangers, friends, and colleagues over the past month, and greatly appreciate everyone who took the time to read my work.
  2. Writing helps you learn about yourself. Unfortunately, time to really sit down and reflect is rare in the busy lives we lead. By setting aside protected time over the past month to blog every day, I have had time to really examine my beliefs, my worries, and my philosophies on teaching and life.
  3. Writing helps you learn about othersSome of the other writers in this challenge were strangers. Some were colleagues and friends. I learned something from and about every single one of them.
  4. Not all writing is your best writing. Spring Break fell right in the middle of this challenge for me, and I must admit that some of the writing I did during this “down” time was not the best writing I did during the month. However, no matter what, each piece developed a little something in me as a writer that wouldn’t have happened if I wouldn’t have stuck with it.
  5. Writing is about pushing yourself to try new strategies. I’m not the same writer I was at the beginning of the month. I have tried different formats and thought about things I never would have explored before this year’s challenge started.
  6. Revision really is important. As much as I hate to admit it, I’m kind of an “I’m done” sort of person. As much as I like to read, I don’t often reread books. When writing papers or doing work for class, I’m more likely to hit ‘Submit’ than to look back over it with a fine tooth comb. But I’ve gotten into the habit of revision this month more than ever before and started becoming a writer who can’t reread any of my own work without thinking of a little something I want to change or improve.
  7. Writing comes from the heart. The pieces that mean the most to me this month weren’t driven by what was on my mind but by what was in my heart.
  8. Everyone is a writer–but some people don’t know it yet. I’ve seen many different blogs from many different people from many different positions and places in life, and am amazed at the growth and insight people can gain from just a month of taking a risk and trying tImage result for writing quoteshis challenge. Myself included.
  9. Inspiration is everywhere. I was inspired this month by other blogs, by the books I was reading, by things happening at school, and by my own family and experiences. All you really need to do to find inspiration is look around you and look within.
  10. The best inspiration is from unexpected places. This month I’ve taken time to write about Breakout Edu in kindergarten, my grandpa, Lucy Calkins, and all of the changes taking place at my school. Each of these posts was inspired by something happening in my life at that moment.
  11. Writing is truly “living with your eyes wide open.” As I’ve looked around me over the past month, everything has seemed a little bit different. Sharper. Stronger. Worthy of being captured with words.
  12. Writing is healing. The changes taking place right now at my school are ongoing and won’t be settled for several months. I’ll never stop missing my grandparents or wishing my kids would stop growing up so quickly. Writing about each of these things has helped me embrace all of the things going on in my life.
  13. You have to find your own writing habits. After doing this for three years, I know now that I love to write late at night and always make sure to stay about a day ahead of the challenge.
  14. You are your own writer. Yes, we study mentor texts. Yes, we borrow ideas and formats from other people. But every writer is unique. No two writers could ever create the same piece of writing in the exact same way. That’s the beauty of writing.
  15. Once you start letting them in, some ideas that just won’t leave you alone. The day after I attended the Lucy Calkins workshop, I couldn’t get the things I wanted to write off my mind. I thought about it from the moment I opened my eyes that morning until the moment I hit publish.
  16. You don’t have to know where you will end up before you start. Many times this month I started with a seed, a little idea that inspired me. Some days I just sat down and began writing and let the words take me where I needed to go.

To be continued tomorrow as we cross the March Finish Line….


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.
    slice-of-life_individual     

Posted in 2017, Family, Reflection, Slice of Life

#SOL17 Day 29: Grinched

My daughter, at barely past her third birthday, has a vocabulary that absolutely blows me away. Maybe it’s because we’ve read to her (a lot). Maybe it’s because she tries to keep up with her older brother (always). Or maybe it’s just who she is (most likely, especially since this theory is backed up with videos of her jabbering in her bassinet at barely 4 weeks old). Whatever the reason may be, my daughter loves to talk.

Even though she thrives on learning new words (some of which I wonder where she even heard them), they don’t always come out just right yet. As we walked the streets of Chicago last week after our visit to the Field Museum, she made all of us slowly repeat “tri-cera-POPS” over and over with her as she worked this word into her vocabulary.

She also has a few special words that she has consistently given an extra syllable. At the zoo, she insists on seeing the “elephanants.” She’s also a big fan of “dolphinants.”

But sometimes she just mispronounces a word completely,

Although she’s been out of diapers for going on a year, she still occasionally has an accident during the night. She woke me up two nights ago at 2:30 in the morning, a soft little, “Mommy?” drifting into my room as I tried to catch a few hours of sleep before our return to school from Spring Break.

As soon as I went into her room, I knew that her bed was soaked. I got my husband up to change the sheets while I gathered her up and grabbed some clean pajamas. I took her in the bathroom, both of us still half asleep, and tried to get her changed as quickly as possible.

All of a sudden, she looked at me with her big sleepy brown eyes and asked (quite pitifully), “Mommy, how did I get all grinched? My clothes are just grinched!”

I couldn’t help it–I had to smile. Sensing my amusement, her giggles kicked in, too. In spite of being grinched and losing a few minutes of precious sleep, suddenly our time together during the night didn’t seem so bad.

Even though she’s learning so many new words every day, it’s the ones she makes her own that I cherish the most. She is a constant reminder to listen closely–you never know what treasures you might hear.


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.
    slice-of-life_individual     

Posted in 2017, Classroom, Reflection, Slice of Life

#SOL17 Day 28: Maps

I first noticed it at the Field Museum last Monday–our 5-year-old son insisted on carrying the map the attendant handed us as we purchased our admission at the door. This map became a permanent accessory that day as he consulted it at each new exhibit and fought to keep it out of his little sister’s hands. By the end of the day, the map was torn and tattered, but even accompanied us back to our hotel.

 

As we arrived at the Museum of Science and Industry on Wednesday, he immediately made a beeline to pick up two maps from the kiosk–one for himself and one for his sister. Again, he consulted it throughout the day. Although he couldn’t read the words, he was quickly picking up on the pictures to help figure out where we were and where we might want to visit next.

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Yesterday we ended Spring Break with a visit to the zoo, and again both kids insisted on having maps in hand. This time our son relied on the color-coding system and the pictures of the animals to help us travel through the exhibits, pointing out where all of his favorite animals were. On the way home he even requested a pen so he could draw a picture of himself on the map. (Of course, his sister had to do the same.)

We frequently hear the question “What’s our plan?” at our house. (They’re a lot like their mother.) They want to know where we’re going, what we’re doing, and when each event will take place.

But this new fascination with maps has made me stop and think: What is so significant about a map?

And then I realized–an itinerary only tells you what’s going to happen next. A map helps you navigate. Maps show you the big picture and allow you to choose a path based on your preferences, your resources, and your priorities. Maps show you where you are, where you’ve been, and where you might go next. Maps give you control and options.

As I think about the learners in our classrooms, I know we’re quick to give them itineraries. We tell them the daily schedule, upcoming assignments, and our objectives for each lesson or unit.

But how often do we give them maps? How do we create opportunities to show them the big picture of their learning and allow them to control how they navigate through a unit? When do we set aside time to support them in exploring the big ideas and seeing how everything connects? How do we support them in considering their own paths for learning?

Are we putting maps in our students’ hands each day, or are we simply handing them itineraries?

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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.
    slice-of-life_individual     

Posted in 2017, Reading, Reflection, Slice of Life

#SOL17 Day 27: At This Moment

Tomorrow we return to school after a week off for Spring Break. As I think about the end of a fantastic week and the work week(s) ahead, I’m borrowing today’s format from Maura at A Work in Progress.

Thinking about: All of the fun my family had over Spring Break, how we will manage to get out of the house by 7:30 tomorrow morning, and all of the changes that lie ahead as my school transitions during the rest of the school year.

Thankful for: My kids, my husband Daniel, my parents and brother, my extended family and husband’s family, and the health and security of the life we’ve built.

Wishing For: One more day of Spring Break!

Planning For: Transitioning back to the classroom in the fall, my son starting kindergarten, summer activities, and the rest of my coursework for this semester.

Reading: Right now I’m juggling The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (everyone has been buzzing about this one and so far it’s amazing!) and finishing Understanding by Design for class on Thursday.

Watching: At this very moment, ShrekMoana is also a favorite at my house right now. When the kids aren’t around, I’m obsessed with This Is Us and Daniel and I have been trying to make time to finish The Girl on the Train for about a week.

Listening to: When the kids are around, the Moana soundtrack. By myself, Hamilton. (Lin Manuel Miranda is getting a lot of airtime at our house.) In the car on our drive to and from Chicago, Daniel and I streamed 90s Alternative to try to relive our college days. With Moana playing on the DVD players right behind our heads, it wasn’t quite the same.

Mood: Wistful. Savoring the last moments of Spring Break with my kids and trying to take a few more moments to relax before things get hectic again.

The more I think about this writing format, the more I like it! This would be a great format to use with kids to ease them back from their time off, too!


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.
    slice-of-life_individual     

Posted in 2017, Slice of Life

#SOL17 Day 26: Snapshots from Spring Break

Spring Break–A week of memories, family time, and new experiences:

Saturday…
Hockey ceremony
Beauty and the Beast

Sunday…
Driving (and driving and driving)
The kids’ first glimpse of Chicago
Walking through the Loop and up to Michigan Avenue

Monday…
The Field Museum: Dinosaurs and Mummies and Animals img_1387
Dinner at the Rainforest Cafe
Catching up with my best friend



Tuesday…
Navy Pier
Giordano’s pizza
Chicago Children’s Museum
Magnificent Mile (Lego Store and Disney Store!)

 

Wednesday…

Museum of Science and Industry. 
First Omnimax movie (Great White Sharks!)
Driving (again)
Home

Thursday…
A visit from Grandma
Kindergarten check up
Laundry and more laundry

Friday…
Mommy Day
Picnic lunch
Animals at the farm
Playing outside

Saturday…
Winding down: car repairs and grocery shopping
Naps

Sunday…
Final day…What fun can we still squeeze in?

Each of these experiences leaves me with countless lessons learned and stories to tell. What seed ideas have you gotten from your Spring Break?


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.
    slice-of-life_individual     

Posted in 2017, One Little Word, Reflection, Slice of Life

#SOL17 Day 25: Do You Know Who You Love?

“Mommy?” There she stood in the doorway of the bathroom, as usual completely ignoring that a closed door means a need for privacy. “Do you know who you love?”

I had to smile at her standing there, her hair still a rumpled mess so early in the morning, big brown eyes looking up at me, little hands with chipped purple nail polish resting on her hips. Maybe it was the question itself; maybe it was the fact that, for just a moment, she was not behaving like the “threenager” who has replaced my sweet little girl for most of Spring Break.

“Who do I love?” I asked right back, already anticipating her answer.

Us!” She proudly proclaimed, barging the rest of the way in and throwing her arms around me.

What a beautiful thing it is to know you’re loved.

What an even more beautiful thing it is to have the ones you love know just how much you love them.


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.
    slice-of-life_individual     

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

#SOL17 Day 24: My Grandpa, The Writer

It’s now been almost four years since the last time I was lucky enough to hear my Grandpa’s voice and see the twinkle in his blue eyes. When he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer on St. Patrick’s Day of 2013, it was already the beginning of the end. The doctors optimistically hoped we would share one more Christmas with him; we didn’t even get the entire summer.

My Grandpa was a strong man. A World War II Navy vet who enlisted before he even turned 18. A businessman. He loved to fish and golf. He enjoyed daily walks and catching up with friends over a cup of coffee at the little shop on the town square. He was an avid high school basketball fan, rarely missing a home game or holiday tournament. He was kind and honest and a good friend to many. He loved his daughters and grandkids. He was the other half of my Grandma.

Pawpaw
My Grandpa with me on my wedding day

 

But he wasn’t the person I would have named if asked where I got my love of reading and writing. He was one of the most intelligent and practical people in my life, but I never saw him sit down with anything to read other than the daily newspaper. I never saw him writing anything beyond the business papers he typed up in his home office before he retired. Even our birthday cards were lovingly signed by my Grandma.

But last night, as my Mom and aunts worked to finally clean out his office in the home he and my Grandma shared for more than half a century, they found a drawer filled with letters and notes he had written. His familiar block-like handwriting filled page after page.

A few pieces were lengthy. A letter to the family of his friend who passed away, sharing what a wonderful man he was and how he would be missed. A narrative submitted to Reader’s Digest many years ago recounting a humorous story from his days as a traveling salesman.

Some, obviously from the later years of his life following the brain aneurysm that impacted his memory, were shorter snapshots of his daily life. Called Manu. He said he will call me back. He did.

As my Mom told me all about these notes today, her face lit up. She recounted how she and my aunts laughed at many of the notes; how they cried at others. I could tell, as she shared her favorites with me, that she heard his voice again as she read each one. I could hear it, too.

Writing isn’t always about creating something epic. Some writing is for an audience. Other writing is just part of our daily lives, reminders to ourselves of the things we’ve done or the things we still need to do.

No matter what, the words we write leave our imprint on the world. Each of the notes and letters that my Grandpa left behind are a piece of him. They have become a treasure for us to read and remember his voice and the sparkle in his eyes.

We don’t have to consider ourselves a writer to be one. We simply need to fill a page with the words we want to remember and the things that are important to us.

That’s what I learned from my Grandpa, the writer.

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One of my last photos of my Grandpa, playing race cars with my son

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.
    slice-of-life_individual     

Posted in 2017, Reflection, Slice of Life

#SOL17 Day 23: Misconceptions

Tonight we came home from a 4-day Spring Break trip to Chicago. In the past four days, we ate our fill of pizza and hot dogs; toured the Field Museum, Navy Pier, Chicago Children’s Museum, and Museum of Science and Industry; walked up and down State Street and Michigan Avenue; and (of course) shopped. My children have seen their first skyscrapers, taken their first bus rides, and touched their first dinosaur bones. It has been a magical and exhausting couple of days.

As we drove home this evening, we made a quick stop for gas and dinner. As we sat down with our last vacation Happy Meals, my kids excitedly recounted their favorite parts of the trip. They chatted nonstop about the Great White Sharks at the Omnimax, their theories about how all the animals died at the Field Museum (a topic that has been heavily debated over the past 48 hours), and the dinosaur skeletons they got to see.

All of a sudden, my son–who recently turned five–got very serious. “You know, Mommy,” he said. “I used to think Chicago was going to be a bunch of trains. But now I realize that it’s a whole city!”

I was a little shocked, not because he had thought Chicago meant a bunch of trains, but by the fact that he was able to identify his misconception and tell me all about how his thinking had changed in the past few days.

This, I thought, is what real learning looks like.

My son viewing a whole city of trains at the Museum of Science and Industry. This is what I imagine he thought Chicago would look like!

I had explained Chicago to him many times. We had talked about all of the things we could see. But until he actually experienced a few days in the city, he didn’t truly understand what it all meant.

So I sit here tonight wondering: How do we get to the heart of our students’ misconceptions? How do we help them experience the things they don’t understand? How can we get learners to recognize and articulate when their thinking has changed?

I don’t have quick answers to any of these questions, but I do have a new understanding of how important it is to take the time to truly listen to the kids around us. Of how essential it is to appreciate the times when we get to experience their misconceptions rising to the surface as their thinking changes. And of how amazing it is to observe learning happening right before our eyes.

My husband, son, and daughter “experiencing” the city on a bus ride to the museums.

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.
    slice-of-life_individual