Thursday, March 31, 2016

Day 31: #SOL16- Some Final Reflections

Today is the final day of the Slice of Life Challenge, hosted by the inspirational writers of Two Writing Teachers. Throughout March, we have committed to writing every single day. It's a powerful learning experience. 

Given that today is the last day of March, it is also the last day of the 2016 Slice of Life Challenge. As in past years, I find myself reflecting and trying to make connections that make be a better developer of curriculum, instructional coach, writer, and overall learner. As in other years, I'm struck by the power of our writing community and all of our shared commitment to doing something hard. Within busy lives, writing every day is challenging, and it's even more challenging because our writing is shared and public. Our bedside journals afford us the luxury of cross-outs, misspelling, and those not-quite-right words. On the other hand our blogs and daily slices require more attention to details. And so many of us have done it. (By the way, I give credit to the Challenge-takers who have missed a day or two. Your commitment still counts! In some ways you get a louder shout-out because it's so easy to fall of the writing wagon and just stay off.) To the entire community, the hosts and all the bloggers--even ones I didn't make it to--thank you. The combined energy keeps us all going!

This year, I had a couple important take-aways which impact the work I do with young writers. First, it's really important to read, celebrate, and study writing of various levels and genres. Some of my daily reads were so consistently wise and brilliantly constructed that I found myself doubting my own writing, and consequently, I started to freeze. My writing felt inadequate. As I wrote in an earlier post, I could work my way out of the slump and the negative feelings, but I wonder how young writers feel when the work that is held up for them to see is consistently better than what they feel they can produce. I think I try to share writing of all levels, but I now have an even greater belief in the importance of this practice. 

Another important take-away for me is that sometimes we have to give permission to take our foot off the gas. During the course of the 31 days, there were times when writing within the same general genre of educational reflections was hard. I had committed to staying true to the educational purpose of the blog I share. In one of my posts, I compared writing to horseback riding, thinking about how sometimes horses respond to just having the reins let go so they can run and and buck and jump. Sometimes, I think that writers need this, too.  Sometimes we need a day off from the hard work of serious writing so that we can just free-write, blurb, or rant--a writer's version of frolicking in a paddock.  As an instructional coach, I may do more suggesting of genre-day-offs within units. I'll be interested to watch for re-energizing and revitalization that comes from dropping the writing reins for just an occasional day here and there. 

There are too many people for me to thank everyone and feel like I've remembered all of you who have impacted me as a writer and as a person this month. If you think you might be on my shout-out list, then you are. This community is like no other with such passion and purpose for learning. I will see you on Tuesdays, and again for the #SOL17. 

Happy slicing, learning, and remaining a community of writers!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Day 30: #SOL16- Sometimes it's good to change it up

The Slice of Life Challenge is hosted by the inspirational writers of Two Writing Teachers. Each March, they invite people to join them in a commitment to write every day. Here's to another year of daily slicing!

I took a different challenge this year than I have done in previous years. In past challenges, I have written on a different blog, one I set up for personal posts, posts that weren't inherently related to education. This year, I pushed myself to stay on the blog I share, the one that is reserved for education-related topics. It's been hard. While there've been slice-worthy moments I've come across throughout the days, relating the slices to teaching and learning hasn't been easy, and honestly, hasn't always led to my best writing. Sometimes has even led to some bad or boring writing.

I'm reflecting, and I'm thinking, and I'm pretty sure that if someone said, "Melanie, write a snippet of family life, and don't worry if it's for no other reason than for capturing a moment," I'd feel so liberated that I'd work hard to write a good one. 

And here's my connection to teaching and learning (because I'm staying with my personal challenge): What if every once in a while--maybe once a week or once every two weeks--during a unit, there was a built in free-write day? A day to just blab, be silly, and take a writer's stretch, escaping the restrictions of a genre or a goal or a checklist or a chart. Write what you feel like writing and share it if you choose. Just offer up a couple of mid-unit breaks. 

Has anyone explicitly tried this? I'd love to hear about it if you have. 

Happy Slicing!

Day 29: #SOL16-Creating space in sock drawers and on the walls

The Slice of Life Challenge is hosted by the inspirational writers of Two Writing Teachers. Each March, they invite people to join them in a commitment to write every day. Here's to another year of daily slicing!

My husband really likes socks. He tends to buy a lot of them. He's not quite so good about throwing them out, though. His sock drawer used to get harder and harder to close until I instituted a new rule a couple of years ago. If you but a new pair of socks, you have to throw out an old pair. That rule helped a lot of issues. It got rid of socks with holes, it lessened impulsive purchases, and it made the sock drawer easier to close. 

We had a professional day in our district today. Usually, I have a full docket of presenting to do, but today, I only had an hour where I had to work with sixth-grade teachers. Therefore, I got to spend some of my time working with a long-term sub who is filling in for a six week maternity leave. Tomorrow will be her first day on her own with the students, and it's the first day of a new writing unit. With the sock drawer in mind, we worked on making space for a new writing unit. Together, we:

  • Cleared out the writing folders. Students need to feel like they have a new beginning in a new unit. Having space will help them grow as writers.
  • Cleared off the bulletin boards. Classrooms that use the writing workshop model should be growing and creating charts throughout the unit. When the unit is over and a new one is beginning, it's time to send that message to students. Make room for the new charts to grow. 
  • Set up the structures that will support writers in the new unit. We are moving into opinion writing. Just as they used checklists for narrative and information writing, they will now use checklists for opinion writing, but they need those presented to them. Celebrating those new checklists will help these young writers shift to a new genre. 
  • Envisioned a couple of anchor and process charts that we will co-create with students over the next few weeks. Laminated charts from last year won't teach the students nearly as well as charts that look less perfect but are designed and developed in front of them.
Just as we need space for new socks, we need space for new learning. I'm looking forward to watching these places fill in with great opinion-related work!

Happy slicing!

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Day 28: #SOL16- Some missing lessons in our nonfiction curriculum

The Slice of Life Challenge is hosted by the inspirational writers of Two Writing Teachers. Each March, they invite people to join them in a commitment to write every day. Here's to another year of daily slicing!

Nicholas Kristof wrote a stunning editorial in today's New York Times about the role the media played in the rise of a politician. I'm still processing some of what he wrote, but one of the striking elements for me is the aspect of money. Kristof quoted one of my all-time favorite reporters, Ann Curry in his analysis of how ratings mattered to reporters.
“Trump is not just an instant ratings/circulation/clicks gold mine; he’s the motherlode,” Ann Curry, the former “Today” anchor, told me. “He stepped on to the presidential campaign stage precisely at a moment when the media is struggling against deep insecurities about its financial future. The truth is, the media has needed Trump like a crack addict needs a hit.”
It occurs to me that we don't do much to teach students to ask about who is making money. Who stands to gain financially from this story?  I'm not even sure I have ever done a good enough job myself of being aware of it. Reporting is a business, and social media has made it harder and harder to make a living as a responsible reporter of the news. We all have to make a living.

Earlier in the month, I blogged about a controversy in my own town that revolved around basketball. My daughter's team made the front page of the local paper twice in one week because of issues of social justice. When I first read the articles, I recognized them as a great example of irresponsible reporting. In our fifth and sixth grade nonfiction curriculum, we have lessons that challenge students to think about whose perspective is included and whose perspective is left out. What could the other side of the story be? I think this lesson is incredibly important. But it occurs to me that our curriculum is missing another lesson, entangled in another quote from Ann Curry: 

We failed to take Trump seriously because of a third media failing: We were largely oblivious to the pain among working-class Americans and thus didn’t appreciate how much his message resonated. “The media has been out of touch with these Americans,” Curry notes. 
Even if we are teaching about perspectives and whose stories are left out, I'm not sure we are teaching about who the reporters relate to, even without realizing it. I have some serious thinking to do about this.

I'm not crazy enough to think that the tale of Trump is one I'd ever use in our elementary curriculum, but Nicolas Kristof does make me continue to think about what educators have to teach students so that we are all responsible consumers of the vast amounts of information so readily available to us.

Happy Slicing,

Day 27: #SOL16-Easter Egg Hunt Differentiation

The Slice of Life Challenge is hosted by the inspirational writers of Two Writing Teachers. Each March, they invite people to join them in a commitment to write every day. Here's to another year of daily slicing!

I'm also linking to Margaret Simon's DigLit Sunday this morning, as my Easter egg hunt will have a digital element this year. We'll see how that goes!

My mother made the suggestion that we not have our annual Easter egg hunt this year. It's the one where My daughters and my nephews race around the yard trying to find the most plastic eggs. I've had my years of Easter Egg Differentiation--one year, each child had a specific color they looked for to try to minimize the tears and the fighting. During other years, specific colors were for older kids while the other colors were deemed younger kid eggs. This year, the youngest is ten, so we really don't need any handicaps. All colors can be fair game for everyone.

"Not have the Easter egg hunt?" I feigned a gasp. "The kids love it. It's part of Easter." I didn't remind her how close I am to some of the kids being 21. When my brothers and I came home from college for Easter, my father hid a case of ponies around the back yard. I can't wait to reinstate that tradition!

The truth is that we don't have many traditions that always happen around holidays. The Easter egg hunt is one of the few, so no, I am not giving it up, even without the ponies in the not-so-distant future. I understand where my mother is coming from. In past years, there have been tears over who hasn't gotten as many eggs. Inevitably, the dogs will find an egg in a few weeks and struggle to eat the jelly beans. And yep, there's the problem of mud and gardens.

This afternoon, there will be mud on shoes. Some of the mud may even get tracked into the house. I will follow the searchers around and I will repeat, "There are no eggs in the gardens," but there still may be a crunched crocus.

I'm thinking about how to differentiate for my mother the gardener and nature lover. What if I incorporate technology? What if each child has a "Noticing Component" of their Easter egg hunt, and has to show us pictures of specified late March beauty--a purple blossom, a daffodil that's not yet bloomed, a Hellebore (yes, they'll probably have to ask), a freshly clipped rose branch, an abandoned bird's nest, and others. Maybe if they have to notice, they'll start to appreciate. Differentiation exists even out of the classroom!

Happy Easter, and Happy Slicing,

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Day 26: #SOL16- Chilling a little--

The Slice of Life Challenge is hosted by the inspirational writers of Two Writing Teachers. Each March, they invite people to join them in a commitment to write every day. Here's to another year of daily slicing!

Today, I've been having a hard time deciding on what to write for a post. Truth be told, I've been doing a lot of writing, but it's been for other projects. My brain feels tapped. As I took a thinking bread and folded some laundry, I remembered (okay, not a total thinking break) some of the points made during the #engchat with Kate Roberts and Maggie Beattie Roberts

I loved this line on Monday night. I was definitely one of the favoriters. I also love it today because I am giving myself permission to post a little less. Chill a little. Nope, I can't work full throttle all the time. Thanks, Kate.

Happy Slicing,

Friday, March 25, 2016

Day 25: #SOL16-Remembering to think about how the learning feels

The Slice of Life Challenge is hosted by the inspirational writers of Two Writing Teachers. Each March, they invite people to join them in a commitment to write every day. Here's to another year of daily slicing!

Yesterday, I presented questioning strategies to a group of elementary teachers at a social studies conference. Throughout the hour long session, I had teachers do the work that I would normally have students do. When I taught them about the Question Formulation Technique, I had them do the work. I even gave them the link to my presentation and made a new slide where they could type in their questions, having the questions show up on the screen in front of everyone. When I taught them about "Ask five questions, then ask five more" I had them try it out, and when I shared a read aloud, I divided the teachers into question-asking groups the way I would for students. What I did do differently was to hit pause and ask them to take a reading on how they were feeling as learners. What was their engagement level? What was difficult? How were they feeling as learners? 

Three of my colleagues were in the session, and when we were having lunch one of them shared that those pauses had been really powerful for her. It turned into a great conversation about why it's so important for teachers to do the work we ask our students to do, really thinking about the metacognition required of the task. None of need a presenter to try out the work we ask of our students; we just need the time and the self-awareness--maybe it's self-discipline, maybe it's self-reminders, maybe I need a better word :)-- to pause and think about the metacognitive processes.  The most effective teachers I work with are the ones who not only understand the task, but also have experienced and reflected on the brainwork involved with it. 

As always--happy Slicing,

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Day 24: #SOL16- Some Amazing Resources for Social Studies

The Slice of Life Challenge is hosted by the inspirational writers of Two Writing Teachers. Each March, they invite people to join them in a commitment to write every day. Here's to another year of daily slicing!

First of all, a quick update for people who read my post yesterday about the cell phone dilemma. I gave Julia her phone back in the morning with a note on it explaining why, and what I wished could be different. She was lovely when she came home last night--

Today, I spent the day at a conference about the Connecticut Social Studies Frameworks. I not only presented, but I also got to attend some amazing presentation from other educators in our state. Laura Krenicki teaches sixth grade social studies in Colchester, but she also does an amazing job at curating resources. Check out her resources at Live Binder. While many of her resources are specific to Connecticut, there are some that could be used or adapted for any state in many different units. 

One of the resources she shared was one I was familiar with already, but I know we underuse National Geographic’s Interactive Mapmaker. Through this free (yes, FREE) tool, users can explore all different types of maps anywhere in the world. With just navigation and clicks, you can see topography, population density, rainfall, types of animal life, economic status, resources...You can zoom in and out, you can compare to other places. Really, the learning is endless and addictive within this resource. 

Another resource is at the site Mystic has created for educators. I knew Mystic had great resources, but in the last year, they have made a concerted effort to create teaching units from the documents and exhibits they have, enlisting teachers to write inquiry-oriented lessons that inspire students to engage in primary documents, technology, artifacts, and authentic world issues. Even though the history is geared toward Connecticut, so much of it could be used within more global topics and units--there’s phenomenal information about the whaling industry--check out the way the voyages of the different ships can be traced here. If you really want to dig into primary resources, check out the logbooks. Imagine the inquiry work that could grow around whales as an endangered animal. The various stories that they have traced to other places in the world could also support studies of world geography, as these stories extend far beyond Connecticut.

We live in world that is so full of information, and it’s a major challenge to sift through it all. These are resources are all definitely worth time exploring!

Happy Slicing,

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Day 23: #SOL16- Control vs Influence

The Slice of Life Challenge is hosted by the inspirational writers of Two Writing Teachers. Each March, they invite people to join them in a commitment to write every day. Here's to another year of daily slicing!

Last night was not my finest hour of parenting. I have one daughter who especially knows, finds, and pushes my buttons as a mother and as a person. I work hard to balance what I control and what I influence with her. I try to stay within the realm of influence, but sometimes it's hard. Last night she was pushing, and in the land of controlling and influencing, I ventured far into control territory. 

It was after nine when we got home from her concert. In between a meeting, tennis practice, and a workout session, she dashed in, took a shower, raided my closet for a white shirt, grabbed a plate of food, and headed to the high school. From downstairs, I heard her yell at my younger daughter to help her with her hair.

I could go on, but I'll summarize: It got ugly when she got home because I brought up her lack of kindness with her family. "You're crazy," she said. "I have homework, and you always do this. You never focus on anything I do right." It went on. I went from calm to mad, but a quieter mad than usual. However, a mad that walked out of her room with her cell phone and her computer.

"Fine Mom," she called. "I just won't do my homework."

She did do her homework on the family computer, and I did try to go back and fix things, but she wouldn't do any sort of reflection. I'll never force my girls to apologize, but I do expect them to be able to process a situation. Not happening. At least not last night. Her cell phone still sits beside me as I write this post.

Recently, I had a conversation with one of our principals about leadership and the balance of control and influence. I don't think there's a balance, actually. It's all about influence, or it's not leading. But sometimes, when we are stressed, when we are unsure of ourselves, when the task on hand is hard, we revert to practices we might not like, the ones that are more about control than about influence--like taking a daughter's phone or telling a colleague to just do something, or taking away recess or free time. These practices might work at that moment in time, but in the long run, probably not so much.

So what to do about this phone? It's 6:25 am. I have about a half hour to figure that out...

Happy slicing,

Monday, March 21, 2016

Day 22: #SOL16- Asking students to ask questions during read-aloud

The Slice of Life Challenge is hosted by the inspirational writers of Two Writing Teachers. Each March, they invite people to join them in a commitment to write every day. Here's to another year of daily slicing!

Last week, I wrote about nudging students to ask more questions by putting them in charge of asking the questions during a read aloud. Students were grouped and different groups were responsible for questions that had to do with characters, settings, figurative language, repetition, and theme development. I've been doing a lot of work around social studies, so today I tried a similar process, but instead of directing students toward reading lenses, I had them think about the text through social studies lenses. I made a chart before I read The Stranded Whale by Jane Yolen so that this class of fourth-graders were reminded of what we meant by geography, history, government, and economy. 

To be perfectly honest, I wasn't sure how the lesson would go. At one point, I apologized to the students because I was worried they'd just want to hear the story. They all reassured me that they didn't mind at all. I was extra convinced whenever I paused and gave them a chance to share the questions they were jotting down together and individually. The level of thinking was really high! Here are some of the questions these students generated, and this is only a small sampling:

Some of the students wanted to write reflections of the experience for me. I can't wait to see what they have to say. Sometimes students overwhelm and exceed even my highest expectations. 

Happy Slicing,

Day 21: #SOL16- Reading and slicing about a truly outlook-changing post

Today I am truly doubling up my Slice of Life post with my Monday Reading post. 
The Slice of Life Challenge is hosted by the inspirational writers of Two Writing Teachers. Each March, they invite people to join them in a commitment to write every day. Today, I am doubling up on my slices with my Monday reading. Jen Vincent at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee Moye and Ricki Ginsburg at Unleashing Readers cohost It's Monday! What are You Reading? weekly on their blogs.  To see what others are reading and recommending each Monday, or to participate, be sure to head over to these blogs.

Over the week, the majority of my reading life has been reading blogs within the Slice of Life community. Yes, I have read several picture books--I struggle to walk by the library shelf of featured ones. I also had a wonderful time reading Encounter by Jane Yolen to a group of fifth graders, issuing them a challenge to generate their own questions. (If you've never read Encounter, go get your hands on a copy.) I also did some reading about Alzheimer's Disease and dementia to support my daughter as she tries to complete her Senior Capstone Project. (Wouldn't be my top choice for my reading life!) But, mostly, and happily, my reading life has been about sharing the daily lives and posts of the amazing community within the Slice of Life. 

I have read about learning experiences from the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, I have read booklists, travel experiences, special family moments, and Clare Landrigan has repeatedly touched the core of my soul with her posts that honor her mother and contain important messages about living, grieving, and celebrating. Here is a post that no one should miss. Seriously. Read this post. (Yes, I've linked it twice.)

Happy reading and happy slicing,

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Day 20:#SOL16-The Final Clearout

The Slice of Life Challenge is hosted by the inspirational writers of Two Writing Teachers. Each March, they invite people to join them in a commitment to write every day. Here's to another year of daily slicing!

Yesterday morning, my mom and I drove the 70 miles west to Katonah, the small town outside New York City where she grew up. My grandmother lived in the same house for 62 years. Sixty two years. Last week, a builder has made an offer on the house that my mom and her siblings have accepted. We had to finish clearing out the house in order to close in 30 days, and the builder will renovate the house, then sell it again.

"We have to do one final clear out," my mother said. "I don't know when we're going to get there." 

I would dread this trip if we put it off, so even though I had a lot to do yesterday, (including preparing a surprise birthday for my second daughter who turned 18 yesterday!!!) 

"Let's just go this morning," I said to my mom. 

She got dressed. 

We've gone through Nana's things now several times. We went through a layer when she succumbed to full-time live-in help, another layer when she couldn't remember the day of the week, another layer when she passed---People took what they wanted, we made trip after trip to the local Goodwill store, we made piles to be hauled away. In 62 years, anyone accumulates a lot. Yesterday, there wasn't much left. With a roll of masking tape and a wide blue sharpie, I marked items to be taken to the rummage sale or to be brought by movers to our Connecticut home. I scribbled labels while my mom talked on the phone with her sister who lives far away. They couldn't decide on the andirons, and there was a painting Jill remembered that we couldn't find. 

"If they're causing that much debate, we'll just take them," I said, writing "to 139" on a piece of masking tape. I touched the not-yet-dry ink as I attached the tape, and it left a blue blotch on my thumb. 

Is it possible to be prepared but to still be surprised? To be ready but caught off guard. When my mom looked at me and said, "I hope you go through my things with more emotion," I was wordless. She was teary and raw, but I felt attacked and defensive. I wanted to comfort her, but I also wanted to explain that emotion takes time.  It wasn't that I didn't have emotion or sentiment about the work we were doing; it just needed to get done, and I was missing Julia's birthday. I had shopping to do, a party to set up, some schoolwork to finish. Pausing to acknowledge the finality of the work would get in the way of efficiency. 

"We've gone through her things, though, Mom," I said. "Could you just appreciate that I'm here and we're getting this done?" 

Not a good response. 

She crumpled. "I never say the right thing with you." 

I paused. Emotion won out over efficiency. 

"You do, Mom," I said, and I out my arms around her. "And there are some really important reflections to talk about on the ride home."  

We hit rewind, finished the job, and I went out to the garden before we left to say goodbye to the house that had been her home for her entire childhood. In hindsight, I wish we had sat down in the garden and I'd listened to a story or two. 

Isn't hindsight always 20/20?  But maybe this reflection will be close and fresh enough for me to do a better job the next time efficiency challenges emotion whether it's with my mom, my husband, my daughters, my colleagues, a student---anyone, really.

Margaret Simon wrote recently how writing is like praying. It's Sunday morning, and I'm not a churchgoer, but here is my prayer.

Happy Slicing,

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Day 19: #SOL16- A new wonder inspired by daily slicing

The Slice of Life Challenge is hosted by the inspirational writers of Two Writing Teachers. Each March, they invite people to join them in a commitment to write every day. Here's to another year of daily slicing!

Given that it is Day 19 of the Slice of Life, and this is my fourth year participating, I have probably read over a thousand slices. Probably more, as I did a LOT of commenting in years past. (This year, I made a deal with myself that if I participated, I would not hold myself to high commenting standards. Three could be enough, although I usually end up doing more.)

I have learned so much about myself as a writer from reading everyone's pieces and from thinking about how it feels as a process, and I had another reflection yesterday as I participated in a classroom mid-unit celebration. As is frequently the case, there were some memorable children in the mix. Stronger writers were much more eager to share than less confident ones, and a couple students were compliantly and respectfully quiet. 

Here's my personal connection: I read amazing post every day. I know they are supposed to inspire me. Sometimes they do. Sometimes they help me think of ideas, and sometimes they spark an interest in a craft technique, and sometimes they teach me something about student learning or the world. But sometimes they don't do any of these good things. Sometimes they sprinkle, drizzle, rain, or even pour on my inferiority complex as a writer. I have read posts where my response heads more in the direction of "Oh man. I'm nowhere close. I hope she doesn't read my post" or even worse--"okay, there's no way I'm even writing today. Close up the screen!"

I share this because I nurture myself and I work my way through and I post every day. But what about the children in our classrooms who hear published mentor texts and peers' solid examples of meeting and exceeding writing? What if their reactions are similar to my initial one? I wonder if sometimes, in our authentic honoring of classroom writers, we confirm the self-fulfilling beliefs of others that they aren't anywhere close and their best bet is to be quiet or even not write at all. Just wondering--my 2016 OLW...

Enjoy the weekend!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Day 18: #SOL16-Some Classes Are Easy to Teach!

The Slice of Life Challenge is hosted by the inspirational writers of Two Writing Teachers. Each March, they invite people to join them in a commitment to write every day. Here's to another year of daily slicing!

I grew up riding horses, and at my barn we all had opportunities to ride each other's horses.There were definitely horses that were harder to rife than others. Mandy was skittish, and she would jump if a door opened. You had to always be ready to hold on because at any moment, she could jump and dump an unsuspecting rider. Champ needed spurs and a crop. You had to work really hard to keep him going, and if there was anything green around, he was going to do his best to stop and eat it. Then there was Elliot. He was awesome. Just a little heel and he was in a perfect gait. We all looked and felt like great riders on him!

I get to work in many classrooms in the district from kindergarten up through sixth grade, and sometimes I compare them to some of the horses at our barn. There are classrooms that jitter. If anyone walks in, if anyone rustles a paper, if anyone sharpens a pencil, everyone looks up, seizing the opportunity to take a break from work. There are also classrooms that remind me more of Champ where the teacher and I work hard to get people going. Those rooms are full of chronic bathroom visitors, reminiscent of Champ grabbing a snack whenever he could. And then there are the classrooms that remind me of Elliot. I was in one today.

When I walked in, they were all busy wiping green dots of paint off all the furniture because of the leprechauns who had visited and left a mess. They all had a serious and fun purpose to clean their room. However, when the teacher asked them to sit down and share their writing, they were quiet, respectful, and proud to have me hear their latest writing. A few students read their pieces while others listened and paid specific comments. In between students, their teacher asked me about conventions, and I told her about a lesson I had. "Let's do it," she said. 

I asked the class to join me at the rug and within thirty seconds, they were all right there with their notebooks and pencils, looking at me, ready to hear what I had to say. Just as Elliot made me feel like a great rider, this class made me feel like a great teacher. But, the truth is, someone (not me) worked really hard to train Elliot, and someone (not me) gets the credit for nurturing a class and fostering an environment where students can have a lot of fun but transition to serious learning just like that! High kudos to their teacher!

Happy Slicing!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Day 17: #SOL16- Happy Question Week

The Slice of Life Challenge is hosted by the inspirational writers of Two Writing Teachers. Each March, they invite people to join them in a commitment to write every day. Here's to another year of daily slicing!

I wish I had known earlier in the month that this week is National Questioning Week. As it was, I saw something about it in a tweet on Tuesday. If anyone has interest, head over to The Right Question website. You will find tons of ideas, articles, links, and resources for incorporating more student engagement by inspiring students to ask important questions. There are videos of the Question Formulation Technique used in classrooms, and even though the featured classes are secondary ones, it's a strategy that I've used in elementary classrooms, as well. Check out some of the #questionweek tweets as well, as there are great images of charts, question scaffolds, and samples of student work. 

In honor of Question Week, I read Encounter by Jane Yolen to a group of fifth-graders, and I had them ask questions. I have to say, students listen very differently when they are generating questions. 

Happy Question Week,

Day 16: SOL#16- An Inspired Writing Exercise

The Slice of Life Challenge is hosted by the inspirational writers of Two Writing Teachers. Each March, they invite people to join them in a commitment to write every day. Here's to another year of daily slicing!

In today's post, I am combining a pair of quotes that I've connected in my own head. "I never write exercises, but sometimes I write poems which fail and then I call them exercises" is from Robert Frost and shared by John Gardner in The Art of Fiction. “Its always worth wondering about what you don’t write about" was a statement made by Shana Frazin on a recent staff development day.

I don't usually write poetry, and I'm trying today because if it fails, it's a writing exercise:

I write essays on what I teach and learn
and stories about life's moments
picture books
middle grade fiction
but not poetry.

I write about
shortcoming and shortfalls
sixth and seventh grade
fitting in but not belonging
secrets and truths
but mine
and not about
the secrets my daughters keep
and hold tight to their chest
that only come out when I ask
the perfect

I write about me. 
What's mine, what's mine to share
What's mine to give and take and take and give
What't mine to explore and reflect and grow.
The lies I told to stay home in fifth grade
The fall on my lunch box when I broke my tooth
The brownies that we didn't bake because
Instead we ate the batter,
(All of it.)
The tagged pages of Forever
The whispered secrets
Of best friends.

And the decisions of what diapers to choose,
What house to buy
Whether to take the vacation we really
really want.
What fight to pick
What battle to choose
What secret to share

To stay safe
And happy
To be loved
And to love.

Phew. Okay, there it is. I'm calling it a writing exercise (thanks, Robert!), and I'll keep writing my essays and stories, but I'll also keep wondering about what I don't choose to write or write about. (Thanks, Shana!)

Thanks also to the SOL community as we round the bend toward the end of the month!