Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Slice of Life- A High Pressure Small Group Lesson

Every Tuesday, the writing community of Two Writing Teachers hosts Slice of Life. All are welcome to participate by linking up posts or commenting on other participants. 




Small group instruction usually doesn't make me too nervous. I have a few chartbooks that are well stocked with tools, and I can usually reach for one of those. If I don't have the tool I want, I feel pretty confident about creating something quickly that does the trick. But today, I had a high-pressure small group session. 

I had the tools. I had the students. They had their writing. I had my teaching point. You're thinking this is all good, right? Oh, I forgot to mention the pair of video cameras on my right and left. 

Nothing like video cameras to raise the stakes and my blood pressure. 

As I explained to the four boys why this lesson would be important for them, one of them played with his lead pencil. You know the type. Those intriguing pencils that have several tips that insert into a plastic tube, and if you don't have them all engineered just so, the pencil doesn't work. (These pencils might have been created in order to torture teachers, especially teachers who are trying to conduct a lesson on a video tape.) Fortunately, I had a collection of felt-tip pens and made a quick trade with my friend, which he dealt with. 

"I'll give you the pencil back after the lesson," I said, as I swept up the several parts he'd managed to get his pencil into as soon as the video got rolling. 

The lesson continued, and although it wasn't perfect, it was probably good enough. And maybe it will even be affirming for others to watch some of the real-life adventures of teaching. As my friend reminded me, good=real, and perfect=unbelievable. 


Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Slice of Life: If students can't do the work without us---

Every Tuesday, the writing community of Two Writing Teachers hosts Slice of Life. All are welcome to participate by linking up posts or commenting on other participants. 



I thought about skipping the slicing life tonight. Truth be told, I've been writing all day. I've worked on my first three chapters of my novel, I've revised my query letter, I've edited some descriptive paragraphs for summer programs, and I've written a critique of a book proposal. I've also made charts and written some demonstration pieces. All in all, there's been a lot of writing done today, and sometimes it gets in the way of a good slice.

Then, almost simultaneously, one of my favorite (I know I'm not supposed to have favorites, but) teachers texted asking if I'd take a look at some of her students' recent on-demand writing samples, and a tweet came through my feed from #tcrwp.


Of course I'll look at the writing samples, I texted right back. She went on to share how disappointed she was with the quality of the writing. I responded with the standards. They met the state standards--just not her standards. And now in our upcoming unit, we have a new bar set, and that is one where they go above the basics and into the realm of independent demonstration of all of her great instruction.

 We teach well beyond the standards, and sometimes the work we see in process pieces exceeds the work students produce in an on-demand situation. Let me revise that statement. Sometimes the work we see in process pieces exceeds the work we ALL produce in an on-demand situation. That being said, I think it's crucial that we are constantly and continually assessing students' internalization of our instruction because yes, if they can't do the work without us, they can't do it.

So here are some questions to help us build independence and repertoire regardless of unit and regardless of level:

  • How long can the student sustain productive work without adult intervention? Is that amount of time increasing?
  • How strong is the scaffold, and what is the plan for removing it? 
  • What is the student's understanding of the work they are doing?
  • Are we valuing the process and growth more than the product? 
When left to their own devices, sometimes students will wow us and sometimes they will disappoint us. Our job is to give them the instruction, power, motivation, and pride in becoming independent writers, regardless of their level.  

And now, I've completed my writing for the day, including a slice!

All good things,







Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Slice of Life: One big upside-down bag

Every Tuesday, the writing community of Two Writing Teachers hosts Slice of Life. All are welcome to participate by linking up posts or commenting on other participants. 



This morning, my car had to go into the shop. It's been making a funny noise. For a while. I've tried to ignore it. I had to stop ignoring it when my daughter was home and drove my car and said, Mom, what's that noise your car is making? 

My husband took my car today, so I had to drive his car. I am happy that I have a husband who takes my car into the shop. He has a nice car with a heated steering wheel, but other than the heated steering wheel, I don't like too much else about his car. It's too big. The radio stations are all sports-oriented. His keyring doesn't have the fob I need to get into schools throughout the day. 

When I got to school, I stayed in the driver's seat for an extra couple of minutes as I wrapped up a conversation with my sister-in-law. She was still on the line when I got out of the car and opened the back door. I might have said a bad word when I opened that door. I could blame the car, but I think probably the cause was user error. When I tell you that my teaching bag fell out upside down, I mean 100% upside down. 

She laughed, and then I laughed. "I don't even have to be there, and I can tell you have a big mess," she said. "I do," I said. 

As I write this post, I wish I had taken a picture, but I'll try to explain with writing. My classroom bag is a Scout bag with 6 outside pockets and a big center compartment. I keep mini-charts in it, as well as pens of every color and size, paper clips, a stapler, demonstration texts, a couple books,  folders, and a set of paper types. At least. And my bag turned upside down in the parking lot. 

My friend Frank was walking across the lot. "I saw that," he said. He knew exactly what I was going to ask. We laughed, and he helped me pick up the mess. 

"It could have been a Monday," he said. 

"True that," I said. 

When I saw him at the end of the day, he wanted to know if my day had gotten better. It had. And my bag is much more organized!

Happy Slicing,


Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Slice of Life: Creating opportunities for competence and confidence

Every Tuesday, the writing community of Two Writing Teachers hosts Slice of Life. All are welcome to participate by linking up posts or commenting on other participants. 


One of the best parts of my job is working with students in their classrooms. It's also one of the hardest parts of the job because usually, I focus my energy on the students who are struggling and striving. By the time students get to third or fourth grade, they have fairly well-established understandings and beliefs about themselves as writers, and this makes me sad. In this morning's slice,  Clare Landrigan wrote about first-graders who questioned why she addressed them as "readers." Likewise, I see many, many students who do not see themselves as writers. 

We need to change that. 

Today, I worked with a group of four fourth-graders who are just beginning a unit on informational writing. We integrate information writing with social studies, so they had some topics about Connecticut history to choose from. Rather than choosing a topic that would require a lot of research, I asked each of them to choose a war they knew something about. We'd write fast and create a shared piece-- each section would be about one war. Three of the four boys knew a lot about wars, so they were able to get started with their writing right away. With the nudge of some transitional words, they each wrote several sentences about a specific war. While they were off and running, one of the boys shook his head and indicated that he didn't know a thing about any of the wars. I asked him a little about the Revolutionary War, and he teared up, unable to provide anything of substance about it. "How about just war?" I said, trying to do some damage control and stop the tears. "What do you know about wars? You can write a section just about what was is in general." He perked up, and he managed to write a fair amount with plenty of also's, another's, for example's, therefore's, and this is important because's. 

I share this because at the end of twenty minutes, they produced an informational text with sections, different types of information, transitional language, and a plan for an introduction and conclusion--in fact, they were excited enough about it that they told me they'd work on the beginning and ends tomorrow before school--and...they were excited about their writing. "I never write this much," one of them said. "I didn't realize I had so much to say." Three of the four boys felt great about what they wrote, and my teary friend admitted he felt better. Sometimes, I have to settle for better. 

Their work wasn't perfect; it was an approximation. However, it's hard to teach kids to write if they don't write. Somehow, we have to make the work seem doable so that we can celebrate and enjoy the energy that feeling confident and competent brings. Sometimes I wonder if those feelings are right up there with audience and purpose.  Thoughts?

Happy Slicing,


Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Slice of Life: Picture Books and Powerful Essays

Every Tuesday, the writing community of Two Writing Teachers hosts Slice of Life. All are welcome to participate by linking up posts or commenting on other participants. 



Yesterday at a PD session our presenter mentioned the beautiful essay that Matt de la Peña wrote in Time Magazine, Why We Shouldn't Shield Children From Darkness, and Kate DiCamillo's equally beautiful response to Matt, Why Books Should Be a Little Sad.  Today, one of my colleagues mentioned these essays in a completely separate conversation, and truth be told, I already had tweeted and shared them with several people. Some essays are so important they just keep coming up.

If you have missed these essays, go read them instead of the rest of my post. Really. At least just one of them. Matt and Kate are much more worth reading than I am.

I had pre-ordered Love, so I'd already read it before Matt wrote about the debate with his publisher about one of the illustrations. In Loren Long's illustration, a little boy is huddled under a piano and an empty cocktail glass. When I first read the book, I didn't notice the glass. My focus was on the words and the language--the poetry within the text.

I'm not sure that I can make this comparison as powerfully as I want to because I recently loaned my copy of Baby by Patricia MacLachlan to someone so I can't quote the exact passage that opens the first chapter, but bear with me. Papa tap dances after his first cocktail that makes him happy. He stops after his second cocktail that makes him sad. I'm not sure how different Papa's mood change in a middle grade novel is from the empty glass in a picture book is, and what I think is more important is that if a child notices either one of those details, then maybe that child needs to notice those details. Maybe that child is the one who needs to talk about something, and it's those details that provide the opening.

Thanks to this community,






Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Slice of Life: Thinking About Social Justice at Teachers College

Every Tuesday, the writing community of Two Writing Teachers hosts Slice of Life. All are welcome to participate by linking up posts or commenting on other participants. 


Sometimes my work takes me in to New York to hear the reflective, provocative, and brilliant thinking of the people who work for the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. While I had other ideas about today's slice of life, I feel far too compelled to share some of the wisdom, ideas, and insight from today's session with Cornelius Minor and Natalie Louis. I've tried to capture my notes in the form of categorized provocative questions and/or statements.

Ideas and questions to begin the thinking:
  • We can/must teach children to look at what’s different and find beauty.
  • When we don't understand each other, sometimes we assume we do. Before we give advice we should either ask to be asked or wait to be asked. 
  • Think about the word diversity as it appears within your district documents? Do we want diversity or do we want inclusion? How do we see the differences? 
  • What’s really important for young people to do? look at things that are different and find beauty in things that are different.
  • Justice has never been achieved by waiting for a leader to act first. If we want kids to be change agents, then we have to be change agents first. 
  • What do you want people to say about you when your career is ending?
  • Schedules are a moral document; we are where we invest our time. 
  • Engagement isn't a kid problem; it's a system problem. 

Thinking about social justice:

  • Who has power? 
  • Who is choosing to stay silent?
  • How do we take responsibility to hear everyone?
  • How can we make an impact?
  • How do you differentiate social justice? What is the level of injustice that that kid is ready to embrace? 
  • What would you outlaw if you could outlaw something to decrease the chaos in life?

Teaching empathy-Questions to ask students, especially within the context of read-alouds:

Questions for teachers:
  • How do we actively teach kids to build relationships?
  • Where in our day to we teach empathy?
  • How do you think about your curriculum for read aloud? 
  • What do the books we read say about class, gender, race, socio-economic status...?
Questions for Students:
  • Who will you be in a moment of conflict?
  • Who would you be in this read aloud?
  • Why does the book end on an earlier page? 

Thinking about what we ask students to do:
  • Be comfortable with discomfort. 
  • Persistence is a skill that can be taught. The ability to persist through a no is a skill we can teach kids.
  • Complexity of the task and complexity of the text changes, but not the skill, not the goal.
  • How do we find issues that matter to kids? Justice projects can take a lot of different forms. Engage them in things that matter to them. 

So much to think about in these statements and questions, and this is my distillation of about eight pages of notes. If you are reading this, you are probably someone who has already given thought to many of these issues. Thank you. How do we get others on board with the responsibility and power that we have as educators in a chaotic, unpredictable, and unjust world?

Peace,


Monday, January 8, 2018

Some of My Favorite Books from 2017

One benefit of using Goodreads to keep track of my reading is I can easily reflect on the books I read each year by looking at my shelves, ratings, and reviews.
After looking at my 2017 shelf on Goodreads, here are some of my favorite books I read last year:


Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall
This is a perfect read aloud for so many reasons! It is great for teaching about small moments in narrative writing since it truly stretches out the moment when Jabari is trying to regain the courage to dive.  It is also perfect for teaching/modeling how to use the strategy "Somebody, Wants, But, So" to summarize the story, identifying lessons learned, character impact, character change, and so much more! This is now one of my many favorite picture books.

The Thing Lou Couldn't Do by Ashley Spires
Ashley Spires also wrote The Most Magnificent Thing, which is one of my favorite picture books for teaching about growth mindset so as soon as I saw she wrote this, I had to buy it! This book is another perfect read aloud for teaching and discussing growth mindset with your students.  I love that this book uses the phrase "not yet" in this book since that is such an important phrase for having a growth mindset.  This book is a great read aloud for all grades, including primary.  Enjoy!




A Bike Like Sergio's by Maribeth Boelts
Maribeth Boelts is the author of Those Shoes, which is one of my favorite picture books so as soon as I saw she wrote a new book, I had to buy it and read it! This book reminds me of Those Shoes so it would be great to read aloud both of them to compare/contrast the books.  This book would be a great read aloud during a character unit or Social Issues book club unit.  It is also a great book to use when teaching "Somebody, Wants, But, So" to summarize, identifying character motivation, character change, character impact, turning points, and lessons learned.



A Boy Called Bat by Alana K. Arnold
This is the first book in a new series and I look forward to reading book 2 when it comes out in March.  This book would make a great read aloud in grades 3 and up and would also be a great book club book in grades 4 and up during a character or social issues unit.  In this book,  Bat is a nickname for Bixby Alexander Tam. Bat's mom is a veterinarian, who brings home a baby skunk one day. Bat immediately has a connection with him and wants to keep him as a pet.






Falling Over Sideways by Jordan Sonnenblick
I love Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick and always read it aloud to my 5th grade students each year and they loved it!! So I was so excited when I saw he wrote a new book and immediately added it to my list to read.  This is another great read aloud, book club book, or independent reading book for the upper grades.  He reminded me a lot of Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie so it'd be great to compare and contrast the two after reading them!





Restart by Gordon Korman
Gordon Korman has written so many great books that kids love so I had to buy and read his latest book, Restart!
This is a great read aloud, book club book, or independent book for grades 6 and up.  In this book, the main character, Chase falls off a roof and doesn't remember anything! Is this a chance for him to make some better decisions in school, with friends, and family? Is this his opportunity for a fresh new start? You will have to read it to find out! This book will keep students engaged!





Happy Reading! :)




Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Slice of Life: The challenge of getting started

Every Tuesday, the writing community of Two Writing Teachers hosts Slice of Life. All are welcome to participate by linking up posts or commenting on other participants. 



Full disclosure: this is the third start of a blog post I've made. I've started one about contrasting yesterday, the last day of vacation, with today, my first day back at work in 2018. I've started on about my daughter's yoga class. I've deleted both. Do you ever do that? Start posts and get stuck on them? Start posts and think who is ever going to read this? Start posts and then think why on earth will anyone care about this? 

At our yoga class, our instructor says that one of the hardest things to do is to get there. Maybe that's sort of like writing. Maybe we just have to start--commit to it--get ourselves going-- and once we get enough on the page, we are more compelled to keep it. 

At school today, I watched a classroom of third-grade students writing and writing their information pieces. One child, a little girl who struggles and strives with her writing, had a hard time getting going, even though she knew what she was going to write. Tomorrow, I can tell her that I know exactly how she feels. That sometimes the toughest thing we do is just getting those first few words down on the page because once we do, we can use those words to lead us along.

Happy Writing, and Happy 2018,


Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Slice of Life: The Power of One Little Word

Every Tuesday, the writing community of Two Writing Teachers hosts Slice of Life. All are welcome to participate by linking up posts or commenting on other participants. 


The house is quiet this morning, for a little while longer, anyway. Left to their own patterns, the girls sleep late. As long as Okie has had a morning run around the yard, he is content to lie down next to my chair when I read and write.

The morning bloggers have reflected on their One Little Words for 2017, and I love that two of them share by 2017 OLW of brave. I haven't done a lot of public reflecting about my word, although I have loved reading about Fran's progress. That being said, it has been a great focus for my year, and I have pushed through some challenges with the nudge of my OLW. Some of those challenges have felt like short-term dares--diving through the waves when the Rhode Island ocean water is still cold or lifting my legs into a wobbly headstand--or longer term goals like presenting at conferences and submitting my writing to contests and agents (for rejection after rejection).

I am the first of the TWT authors who will share my OLW for 2018, which I have to say feels brave; I'm not sure how I ended up in that first place position! Right now, for those who are still reading and contemplating taking on a word for a year, I'm going to make a strong pitch for it. Resolutions were always tough for me to remember. Some times (often by the second week of January) I forgot what they were and most times (probably always by February), those resolutions were tucked into the back of a drawer within my mind; any potential to change any aspect of my behavior or life was gone. But just one word---

Just one word has been easier to remember, and I'm not sure it had so much to do with the word as much as it has to do with the grounding, centering, and intention the word provides. Each year has brought about challenges--personal and professional, positive and negative, short and long-term, family and friend-based-- and when I think about those challenges, any of my past words would have inspired me to push through; it hasn't been the power of the word as much as it's been the focus of the intention. The practice of choosing a word and living with it throughout a year has slowed me down, inspired me to reflect, bonded me with others who share my word or the practice, and given me an anchor when I felt floundery. (I know floundery isn't a word, but I like it!)

If you're waivering, if you're debating, if you're wondering about taking on a word for a year, give it a try. If you think it would help, write your word down in places where you see it. Remind yourself of your word on your drive to work now and then, telling yourself why you chose it, what it meant. Return to your word when you're feeling floundery--we all have that feeling sometimes. Share your word or keep it to yourself, but let it serve as a beacon or an anchor. You might be surprised at the power of one little word.

If you're off this week, enjoy the time to slow down and rest. Happy 2018 to all of you.


Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Slices of Life- Moments to Remember

Every Tuesday, the writing community of Two Writing Teachers hosts Slice of Life. All are welcome to participate by linking up posts or commenting on other participants. 


There are moments that you want to hold on to, remember always. 

Maybe we have the Patriots to thank (or maybe the officials to thank) for the celebratory feel in our household on Sunday night. My husband did a spontaneous happy dance at the end of the game which one of the girls captured on her cell phone so were able to relive his joy over and over.

Moments to hold on to, particularly if you're not a Steelers fan. 

As we cleaned up, Clare and Julia headed to the piano. For years, I insisted that the girls take piano lessons until it was too hard a battle and I gave in to athletic practices and too many AP classes with too much homework, but with time on her hands, Julia returned to the keyboard and played holiday music. Clare took over since she has piano skills to accompany singers, and it led to all of us in the study singing and listening to song after song. Sweet Caroline, Let It Be, Little Wonders, Amazing Grace, You're Beautiful... My mom came in and joined us, and even the dog snuggled against me and listened to the music. 

Moments to hold, moments to hold close, moments to remember always.

Happy writing and slicing,

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Slice of Life: Craft and grammar in a snippet of text

Every Tuesday, the writing community of Two Writing Teachers hosts Slice of Life. All are welcome to participate by linking up posts or commenting on other participants. 



I’m going to admit something. I love grammar. I love author’s craft. I love lingering on text and noticing how a favorite author has put together their words, sentences, and paragraphs. Today, I had a chance to share some of the work I’ve done around grammar with several of my colleagues. I shared some of the games we’ve been playing in a third-grade classroom, but I also shared how we can look at a text and appreciate the grammar and craft moves within in it. I shared the first passage from Cynthia Rylant’s Every Living Thing. (Sidenote: If you don’t have this book, you might want to think about getting it, as it is full of short texts that lend themselves incredibly to close reading, mentor text usage, and craft analysis.)

Here’s how the first couple of sentences go:
Leo was the first one to spot the turtle, so he was the one who got to keep it. They had all been in the carm driving up Tyler Mountain to church when Leo shouted, “There’s a turtle!” and everyone’s head jerked with the stop.

In just a few minutes we talked about the different verb tenses that appear in this passage. It can spark a great conversation about how dialogue appears in text as present tense. Why is that? We also talked about the use of proper as opposed to common nouns. What was the purpose of specifically naming Tyler Mountain? What if had been just a mountain, unnamed? And what about the pronouns? We don’t know who they/everyone are at this point. Should we? Why don’t we? Some additional conversations that could come out of these three lines include the use of punctuation, the choices of verbs, the lack of adjectives and adverbs--

Recall and recognition are important, but how we notice and appreciate intentional and effective use of language reinforces, engages, and develops deeper understandings of these concepts.

Always happy to be slicing in this community!


Monday, November 13, 2017

Slice of Life: You don't know the words?

Every Tuesday, the writing community of Two Writing Teachers hosts Slice of Life. All are welcome to participate by linking up posts or commenting on other participants. 




I had a moment last week when I worried about the (okay, my--) parenting of my youngest daughter. She loves babysitting, and she went off with a skip in her step to watch over our friends' boys. The three year old was still up, so she had the task of putting him to bed. When I picked her up, she told me all about it. 

"We played blocks," she said. (That's good, I thought. Nice divergent, creative play.)
"We watched a show." (I'd rather you'd have read more books, but okay.)
"I read him a few books." (Now we're talking! What books did you read?)
"The only problem I had was that he wanted me to sing Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star." (What?!?!? Why?!?! You have a beautiful voice--)

And then, she told me she had to google the words to Twinkle, Twinkle.

I'll let you go back and read that again. Yes. Go back and read that last line again.

Nope, not the second verse. The main verse. 

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Had I really not taught my little girl the words to Twinkle, Twinkle? 

I laughed. So did she. 

"I couldn't remember if there was another line after the diamond in the sky part," she explained. "I know the tune from playing violin, but not the words."

Fortunately, she's a child who sees the humor in these sort of occurrences, and she can acknowledge that learning words is sometimes hard for her. And I can acknowledge that since she is the youngest of four, she might not have heard traditional lullabies with the same enthusiasm as her older sisters might have.

But I'm left to wonder what else I have forgotten to teach her. What else is she missing? And will those other missing parts be able to be filled in by a quick google search?

Here's hoping--

Happy writing,