Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Slice 23 of 31-#sol17: Thinking about author's craft

This is the 10th year that Two Writing Teachers has hosted the Slice of Life Challenge. Thirty-one days of writing during the month of March, here we go!


I always admire people who admit when they're not sure of something, and recently one of our teachers asked what we meant when we talked about author's craft:
  • How do we teach it? 
  • What do we mean by it? 
  • Is there a list of craft moves we should be responsible for?
  • What if we say the wrong thing?
  • How do we teach something we don't really understand ourselves?
She really got me thinking about author's craft and the high leverage moves to teach a complicated subject. I sat with her and another teacher at the end of the day, and together we studied The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson. We chose this one because it is a picture book they both owned and had read before. (Hat tip to Clare and Tammy who wisely pointed out how powerful it is to use the books in the classroom, rather than appear with our own that the teachers don't have once we leave! If you missed it, check out this post.) As we read through the pages of The Other Side, I began to point out some of the craft moves I noticed, including:
  • sentence variation
  • repetition
  • beginning sentences with conjunctions
  • the repeated use of the word "that"
  • intentional paragraphing and use of white space
The teachers caught on quickly, realizing that they did know about author's craft; they just hadn't realized they did. The interesting conversation happened when we talked about the impact these craft moves have on readers. Yes, in the case of this story, repetition could be to emphasize a point or draw readers' attention to an idea. But no, that's not always the case. Sometimes authors might use repetition to create playfulness or create a rhythm in their prose. No, there's not an answer that is necessarily the right answer. It's interpretive. 

When I first started teaching, I had a principal who asked us to debate whether teaching is an art or a science during a faculty meeting. If you ever have the chance to engage colleagues in this discussion, I recommend it. This work session with these teachers was a great example of teaching as an art without clear, readily available answers and formulas. 

Happy Slicing,

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Slice 22 of 31-#sol17: A puppy pace

This is the 10th year that Two Writing Teachers has hosted the Slice of Life Challenge. Up to Day 22 of the 31 day writing challenge!


"Let's see what he notices if we let him walk at his pace," my daughter said. We were at the local reservoir, a popular place for walking, and it was sunny and (relatively) warm. We both decided to take a break from our work and take Okie for a walk. 

At six months old, the whole world interests our little black lab. Sights, smells, sounds--they're all fascinating. When we let him set the pace, Cecily and I did a lot of waiting. We even let him stray from the pathway when there was a particularly enticing scent. Here's what happened: we slowed down and lingered, laughing and paying attention to the world and to each other. A puppy pays attention to so much more than people who are focused on completing their walks. Sometimes maybe we should be more like puppies.

When I came home, I went back to work on my model lessons for literary essay. My work involved reading and re-reading a short text by Cynthia Rylant, leaving patches of thinking--the results of all I noticed. Even though I've read Spaghetti many, many times, I came up with new ideas as I pushed myself to linger with different questions and concepts. Maybe it was the thinking stems, but maybe it was the change in pace that Cecily and I experienced when we let a curious puppy be in charge. Probably my new ideas were the result of a combination.

So often, I'm in a rush, even when I know I'm supposed to slow down. I even try to rush through a close read--this seems like an oxymoron as I write it! Tonight, I noticed the different work that I do and the different ideas that emerge when I slow down and really, really take notice, ask questions, and linger. 

A puppy pace can be a good thing. 


Monday, March 20, 2017

Slice 21 of 31-#sol17: The third quarter laundry folding syndrome

This is the 10th year that Two Writing Teachers has hosted the Slice of Life Challenge. Thirty-one days of writing during the month of March, here we go!


I always look forward to March and the brackets that come along with it, and we watch a lot of basketball in my house. Here's what I've noticed about myself. I enjoy the beginnings of the games when players and teams vie for an early advantage, and I'm a pretty close watcher for the first half. During the third quarter, I tend to fold laundry, do the dishes, or take the dog out with a little less attention to the game. I love the ends, especially the close ones, but I even like the ends when it's not terribly close because I like to watch the celebrations.

I've made a connection to myself as a basketball game watcher and as a SOLSC participant. I started off strong with plenty to write, and it lasted for the first half of the month. This third quarter that we're now in gets a little tough for me. My posts feel a little flatter, a little less engaging. And then we hit the home stretch, the fourth quarter when the shots posts really matter. During the last week or so of the Challenge, I feel the pressure--and it's a good pressure--to write really well, to create meaningfully. 

And now I'm thinking about school and students. We're in the third quarter. The newness of the year is over. The end is still a distant horizon. Do you have students who are feeling as I've described? Do you hit a point in the year when learning feels flat? When it feels more like going through the motions than exciting and inspiring? In some ways, it's the most consistent stretch of learning we have throughout the year, but how do we keep the energy up for learning? What do you do?

I'd love to hear from you!

Happy Slicing!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Slice 20 of 31- #sol17: Happy Birthday to Julia!

This is the 10th year that Two Writing Teachers has hosted the Slice of Life Challenge. Thirty-one days of writing during the month of March, here we go!


Yesterday, this little girl turned nineteen. I've been reading so many posts reminding us to savor the moments, that time goes by, and yes it does! For the most part, I've handled having my girls leave for college, but I have to say that I had a bit of a lump in my throat today, as I really missed her on her birthday. Her care package should arrive tomorrow, but even so, several times I thought about texting someone to surprise her with a cake. I resisted though. I'm glad I did, because stay tuned... someone really special took care of making sure she had candles!

It seems like not too long ago that she had rolls and delicious cheeks and a belly laugh. 

Although the body shape has changed significantly,

 if you look closely, you'll see the determination in her face that led to this:

How I love this girl!

The picture above was actually taken by Lisa Keeler during a recent visit. I share this because not only do I know Lisa because of the reach and power of the TWT community, but also it was Lisa's text that ended my stoicism for the day. I thought I'd make it through March 19th without tears, and I would have until Lisa's message came through:

Lisa not only made sure my girl had a cake, but also a home-cooked meal on her birthday. 

My tears weren't sad tears--they were tears of gratitude and celebration. 

Thank you, Lisa, and thanks to all of you for creating and nurturing and being a part of this community!

Happy Slicing,

Slice 19 of 31-#sol17: Using Google Forms for Conferring

This is the 10th year that Two Writing Teachers has hosted the Slice of Life Challenge. Thirty-one days of writing during the month of March, here we go!


On Sundays, Margaret Simon invites bloggers to share ideas that somehow relate to the world of digital learning on her blog, Reflections on the Teche. I have been meaning to link up for weeks, and today, during the March Slicing Challenge, it seems a perfect time to do it. (The only catch is that today is one of my daughter's birthdays. Tomorrow, I will wish her a happy birthday.)

Last Friday, I presented to a group of teachers about workshop efficiencies and conferring. One of the practices I shared involved using Google Forms. During the last two weeks, I've been forced to use Google Forms twice, once to collect responses from teachers about choice workshops and once for the slicing world--many of you may be about to fill out the Participant Form for the Weekend Slicing Challenge. When you do that, think of me--it was my second ever Google Form! If you use Google Drive, and you've made a document, folder, or slide presentation, just go a little further in the drop box, and make a Google Form.

I've since made a few more, and I have to say that this tool is a conferring game changer. Check out what you can do:

Create a form. In my case, I made a sample one for a second grade opinion writing unit. For the first question, I entered names. Mine are hypothetical, but I plan on making one that includes all of the students I am targeting in my coaching work. A teacher could enter the students in a classroom. I made this list a checklist form so that if I were doing a partner conference or a small group, I could enter the information all at once. 
At the top, you can see the questions and responses

On the right, there's a + button to add another question, and I made that one be a compliment. Because I want to make sure that students hear the language of the standards whenever they can, I entered learning targets from the second grade opinion writing standards. I made these also a checklist because sometimes I may give more than one compliment, although not often! I entered the same terms in another question that is the teaching point. For this, I used the drop down option to remind me to ONLY TEACH ONE THING in a conference. (I still need to yell that at myself!)

This form is shrunk down so you can see more of it.

It's so easy to get results and create a record in various forms of my conferring! You can click on responses, which is at the top right of the form, and you can also make a spreadsheet. It's automatically date-stamped, and it can be sorted and manipulated however you'd like!

What an amazing way to keep instruction focused, track teaching, and maintain records. Love this!

Thank you for hosting this community, Margaret. 

Happy slicing everyone,

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Slice 18 of 31-#sol18: Eighteen things about me

This is the 10th year that Two Writing Teachers has hosted the Slice of Life Challenge. Thirty-one days of writing during the month of March, here we go!


This post has been on my mind since Lisa began the month with her 31 things. Other slicers have modified it to the number of things per day of our challenge. Therefore, I think I should do it sooner rather than later since the longer I wait, the more things about me I have to write. In no particular order, here come 18 things about me, in a somewhat unplanned order:
  1. Writing about myself like this is hard for me, but my One Little Word for 2017 is brave, so I'm doing it. (That should maybe count as two...)
  2. I have four daughters and for one year, I had four teenagers. My oldest is now closing in on 21. They are different and incredible, and I hope they will stay each other's close confidantes and cheerleaders. 
  3. All four of my daughters have names that are found in Patricia MacLachlan books. I did not do that on purpose, though it might have been subliminal. She is my favorite author. 
  4. I usually don't have the energy to put my clothes away until the weekend, even though I resolve to do this week after week. 
  5. Morning is my favorite time to write. Weekend mornings, before I put those clothes away, with my coffee that my husband, Garth, brings me. 
  6. I was sure I'd be a veterinarian until organic chemistry and genetics did me in. I love teaching, but I wish I hadn't given up. 
  7. I have eight nephews, two brothers, and a husband with two brothers. I'm glad I have the girls. 
  8. At a 40th birthday party (not mine), I told a friend I'd give her eggs after a couple of margaritas. I have genetic twins who are now twelve. I wish I could see them more. 
  9. One of those twins is a boy. Every now and then if someone won't let go of the idea that I have 4 girls because I wanted a boy, I let that little known fact be known. You should see them try to make sense of the situation!
  10. Garth is the nicest person I know. 
  11. I wish I was a nicer person. 
  12. I eat something chocolate every day.
  13. I'd never try to give up coffee. 
  14. Gray hairs have started to show up in my eyebrows and I sometimes pull them out. So far, I have not been impressed that seven grow back when you pull one out. 
  15. I love grammar.
  16. I'm a really bad liar.
  17. Public speaking remains one of my least favorite things to do. It requires a lot of self-talk on my end. 
  18. Did I mention that my OLW for 2017 is brave? It's been a great choice so far!
Happy slicing, commenting, and weekending! 

Friday, March 17, 2017

Slice 17 of 31-#sol17: A help-yourself bulletin board

This is the 10th year that Two Writing Teachers has hosted the Slice of Life Challenge. Thirty-one days of writing during the month of March, here we go!


My work has been putting me in the classrooms a lot this year, which makes me happy, and one of the teachers I'm working with gave me the go ahead to revamp her writing wall as we moved into a new unit. I had fun! Help-yourself bulletin boards have been a focus of my work this year, and I developed one for our class. 

Choice is important for writers, both in terms of topics they use and in terms of tools they have available. Therefore, I created a wall of tools for the students, and hooray! They've been using it! Sometimes they take the checklists which are in the green slots. I made them separate checklists for structure, development, and conventions, and I put one grade on one side and the lower grade on the other side. This way they could be more honest goal-setters. I also wrote continua for them of fair to great paragraphs, and those are in the blue slots. On the left, we have the charts and continua in miniature versions in plastic frames; students can take those during workshop time. I also made miniature versions on card stock which students have been using and returning. 

It's been fun to watch them make decisions about which tools will be most useful to them on that day, and I also think it really reinforces the concepts of goal-setting and intentionality which are so important in our lives as writers. 

Happy Slicing,

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Slice 16 of 31-#sol17: What I make

This is the 10th year that Two Writing Teachers has hosted the Slice of Life Challenge. Thirty-one days of writing during the month of March, here we go!


Yesterday, I wrote about Tara Smith's post about Amy Krouse Rosenthal  , and I spent the day thinking about a poem I could write about what I make. If you watch Amy's beautiful video about making things, you might be inspired, too. 

 I don't do a lot of poetry in my writing practice, so this is brave for me, but that's a good thing since brave is my OLW for 2017.

Things to Make

Make things work, make a list, make a mark, 
make a deal,
Make sunshine, make that call, make up, 
make it real.

Make a change, make way, make a story, 
make dinner,
Make a list, a plan, a pathway, make a day, 
make a winner.

Make a cocktail, a care package, cookies,
Make time.
Make it green, warm, and sunny, make it pretty, 
make it rhyme. 

Make a wish, make a difference, make a promise 
or path.
Make someone listen or smile or think
or laugh.

Make banana bread, salad, cookies, 
 a letter,
Make the most, make it ours, make it last, 
make things better.

Make meals, dates, and gardens
Make memories, make friends.
Make the most, make mistakes,
Make good, make amends.


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Slice 15 of 31-#sol17: What do I make?

This is the 10th year that Two Writing Teachers has hosted the Slice of Life Challenge. Thirty-one days of writing during the month of March, here we go!


This morning, I had the luxury of scrolling through facebook and social media since we have our SECOND snow day in a row that was called the night before. Jimmy Valvano in a famous ESPY speech talks about a great day being when you laugh, think, and cry. Tara Smith's post about Amy Krouse Rosenthal  has me first crying and thinking. 

In the video that Tara shared and I am also sharing--it's 7 minutes, so I understand if you need to watch it later--Amy inspires me to think about what we make in a more figurative that literal way. In the video that is a precursor to this one, her invitation to the park, she makes more literal things like books, beds, messes, and children.  What have I made? Daughters, books, blogs, friends. Promises, pathways, pink hats with ears. I make things happen, I make people happy, I make people sad. I make lists, dinners, smoothies, roasted vegetables, and cookies. Amy and Tara have inspired me to be intentional about what I will make today, to think about putting the word "make" in front of:
  • that phone call
  • up
  • someone's day
  • someone smile
I may make a poem out of what I make today. Maybe that will be tomorrow's post. 

Onward as we slice,

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Slice 14 of 31-#sol17: Thinking about steep learning curves

This is the 10th year that Two Writing Teachers has hosted the Slice of Life Challenge. Thirty-one days of writing during the month of March, here we go!


"I need some serious coffee for this," I whispered to Dena as the presenter clicked through slide after slide that reviewed the complexities and details of the Next Generation Science Standards. 

"Most of us have already seen this information a fair amount," she said. "Don't try to take everything in."

Last week, I went along with our district's science coordinator to a state consortium meeting. At the beginning of the meeting, they asked us to fill out a one-question questionnaire. I'm including the screenshot of the responses. You can be entertained by my response. 

The first half of the day was an overview of the NGSS Science Standards, but it was a review of information for almost everyone in the room except for me. They knew the acronyms. They knew the components. They knew the layers and terms and many of them even knew the rationale. For most people in the room, the learning curve was a pleasant slope, sort of like a green circle in skiing terms. 

I was on a double black diamond. 

By the end of the morning, my head hurt--the result of a swollen brain. During the lunch break, I bought some coffee, trail mix and sour patch kids--my go-to sustenance when the work requires serious thinking. (It's good serious thinking isn't always required or I'd have to modify that intake, I suppose!)

The afternoon was hard too, although a less lecture-oriented more collaborative sort of hard, and I was happy to have my thinking food. I was also happy to share my sour patch kids since I felt like I was contributing something to the work--I'm not sure my scientific thinking was up to par. 

I share this experience because it was a reminder to me of how hard it is to be in a room and feel like the least competent person there. How hard it is to have to learn new stuff fast. How hard it is to not have the background information to assemble new learning and contribute meaningfully to a project-oriented task. It's really hard. Really, really hard. 

How often do we ask our striving learners to be in this position of muddledness? For me, I had the wherewithal to rub my temples and use self-talk through it. I had the courage to whisper clarifying questions to Dena when I needed to. And I had the car and the money to pick up some protein, chocolate, and sugar for the afternoon. What wherewithal do learners have other than to be compliant and try to look busy? 


Sunday, March 12, 2017

Slice 13 of 31-#sol17: Tomorrow it's supposed to snow.

This is the 10th year that Two Writing Teachers has hosted the Slice of Life Challenge. Thirty-one days of writing during the month of March, here we go!


Tomorrow it's supposed to snow. Sigh.
Really? Maybe they are wrong???

A lot.

I have to say that I'm done with snow days.

Here's the positive self-talk: at least we have special formula for the roads, an impressive fleet of snowplows, and plenty of sleds. I could live in Virginia where one of my daughters is going to school. In that case, I could be preparing for the foot of expected snow and total state shutdown. 

It's hard to maintain the positive self-talk, though, even when my OLW for 2017 is brave. 
It's conference week, and I can't imagine the teachers having to reschedule and regroup  when  if those are canceled because of snow. (Okay, optimism/self-deception can sometimes be helpful.)

And we're already going to school into the twenties of June.

I'm really done with snow days. 

Tomorrow it's supposed to snow.

A lot. Big sigh.

I'll make soup. I'll write. Maybe I'll watch a movie with my girls. 

I'm done with snow days, though.

Happy Slicing,

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Slice 12 of 31-#sol17: Brownie making-process and product

This is the 10th year that Two Writing Teachers has hosted the Slice of Life Challenge. Thirty-one days of writing during the month of March, here we go!


It's spring break for colleges, and I have three of my four girls home right now. Last night, they returned from the grocery store with a box of brownie mix. (I was a little surprised since they've been on a health kick!)

They went to work, laughing and cooperating. I'm a nerd, and I'm in the middle of this slice every day challenge, so I'm always on the lookout for moments. As they ate the batter, my mind went to the concept of process and product. 

Judging from the giggles and scraped clean bowl, the process was a positive one.

Judging from what's left in the pan, I guess the product was good, too! 

I think it's important to know that there were several girls here last night!

Happy Slicing!