Slice of Life: Thank You Gary

Tonight I need to sort things out before I go to bed. Running isn’t a possibility, so writing is the workout.

High temperatures in Southern California are getting dangerous. Recess is indoors and after school athletics are canceled. If you don’t have air conditioning, sleeping is difficult. This morning, students were irritable. One actually fell asleep reading on the carpet; out cold.  He had had no sleep the night before.

The morning wore on. By lunchtime, my east-facing classroom’s thermostat read 89º.  After lunch, we packed up and took off for the library, filled with cool air and couches.  Our minds started working again and tension decreased.  Some reading and writing occurred.

At the end of the school day, my hot classroom was cooler than the triple digits outside, so a few came back to blog.  I work with them as I sort though papers, charge iPads. and tack up a chart for tomorrow.A

After they leave, I walk outside to check on the desk that had milk left in it over the weekend. Gary, who is a custodian at two schools, is scrubbing out the smelly residue in the heat. He’s making sure my kiddos who share this desk will have a place to sit tomorrow. He has to leave for the other school by 6:00 pm, but he makes sure this is done.

Tomorrow is projected to be as hot, my air may not be fixed, and I’m betting sleep won’t come easily tonight.

So here I sit, hot and sweaty, trying to figure out a few beat the heat strategies..

I think of Gary. This guy gets the job done. No matter his health, the climate, or the type of mess, he meets challenges with composure and a smile. Never have I seen him in a bad place, mentally. Today he is my hero, not only for cleaning up something that was awful, but for doing what was necessary for student learning.

I’m off to the store for water, some new markers  (maybe we’ll find some poetry on our walls), and something for Gary. I’m hoping my air conditioning will be fixed before it gets too hot tomorrow, but I’m channelling Gary. Doing what needs to be done.

Thank you Gary for more than just that clean desk.

And thank you Anna, Tara, Betsy, Stacey, Dana, and Beth for Two Writing Teachers. Your posts guide so much of my teaching life and provide a space for necessary reflection. Post your own thoughts and read more slices here.


Celebrate: Revision

I’m late to Celebrate This Week with Ruth Ayers. Thank you Ruth for making me come to this page with my celebration. It took a while to figure it out. Find other celebrations and post your own here.

celebrate link upThis week I’m celebrating revision.

It’s Monday morning.  My plans are clear in my mind. My vision of the day and the week is possible. Sort of fairy tale like.

Monday, I walk into my classroom and try to open the google slide doc I want to share. Google docs is blocked.  I revised.

Tuesday, “C” is walking to class with no backpack. Hmm. “Hey ‘C’, back pack?” 

“I left it in my dad’s truck.”

He has nothing to work with. No book, no writing. We revised his day.

Wednesday, after recess, three students are in the office, not in class. All students are clearly disturbed by the absence and needed to let me know. This process takes time and what was envisioned my me doesn’t happen.  So we revised.

I started the week armed with some theories about how students experience independent reading and read aloud. Thursday and Friday, I started testing my theories. The answers students gave me were instructive and shook up my next steps. Which is good.  So I revised.

This week was filled with not much that worked according to plan. Most steps I tried to take required stepping back and revising. Frustrating at the end of the day. It felt like I’d gone no where.

Teaching takes a lot of revision, rethinking.  Frustratingly necessary. Fortunately there is next week.

Slice of Life: Wondering About Wonder

It’s Tuesday and time for Slice of Life with Two Writing Teachers. Thank you Tara, Beth, Stacey, Anna, Betsy and Dana for the this place to share our writing. Post a slice of your own and read more here.
11454297503_e27946e4ff_hWhat Readers Really Do authored by Vicki and Dorothy Barnhouse has been the basis of much of my thinking about reading instruction, and last Friday I had the privilege to spend a full day of thinking  with colleagues and Vicki Vinton. This book has helped me understand the relationship between learning and instruction in general. 


As I plan for the week and then re plan after each lesson, I am always measuring how much I do and how much students do. Every day my teacher-self fights the desire to step in and do more. Every day I hold myself in check, trying to up the percentage of what students do.

I try to hold back and listen to what students are saying and thinking. Even when what they say seems so off, if I really listen I see threads of their logic that link back to the original work or thought. By hearing their thinking that initially appears as misunderstanding, often proves to be so instructive for me and is what drives my next steps. 

Seeing the world and the lesson through students’ eyes is really my job. Sitting in their shoes looking back at me is a true reflection on what learning is going on.

Tonight I am looking back at our read aloud Wonder by RJ Palacio. We started the book with the simple and straight forward thinking about our reading as put forth in WRRD by asking students what do they know and what do they wonder about as they process through the text.


Before we started the chapter called “Locks” I asked students to look back on their thoughts and share what they noticed so far. What popped out at them and what were they wondering about. I recorded their thoughts.

One student said, “I looked Auggie up on the internet and I saw a trailer for the movie, but it didn’t let me see what he looked like.”

Another student wonders, “Does he have a lip?”  (I wonder why he is wondering about the lip, that seems so insignificant but I write it down.)

And yet another student chimes in with, “I’m having such a hard time picturing him because, I don’t know what he looks like.”

Others add, “Yeah, in the beginning it just says about how he looks worse than you would think.”

“And how people are whispering behind cupped hands.” 

“But what does he look like?”

Part of me wants to say, well why do you think the writer didn’t tell you this? Why is she leaving us so in the dark? What do you think that means? But I restrain myself and just write down their comments.

Another part of me is so pleased that Auggie has lingered with a student enough to look it up on the internet outside of class. His own curiosity drove him to it.

So thinking about some the work Vicki shared with us on Friday, I consider possible approaches to pursue this line of inquiry.

One path we could take would be to ask what does your wondering make you think. This is a replicable move across texts. It is clearly what readers or thinkers can do with a wonder. Sometimes we look it up and find the answer and sometimes we look it up and find no answer, so we have to think about our wondering to find an answer.  

Another way we could go is to explore this line of inquiry in the text. Perhaps, if we read closely, there might be some clues we could uncover. Thanks to Kindle the work is easy. I searched for “looks” and “face” and this is what I got:

I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking it’s probably worse.


No one had any idea I would come out looking the way I look.


The doctor’s realized there was something wrong with my face, but they didn’t think it was going to be bad. They told mom and dad I had a cleft palate.  (maybe that’s why students were wondering about his lip)


She said when she looked down into my tiny mushed-up face for the first time, all she could see was how pretty my eyes were.


People think I haven’t gone to school because of the way I look, but it’s not that. It’s because of all the surgeries.


I’ll be the only kid who looks like me.


I would wish that I had a normal face that no one ever noticed at all.


I’m used to how I look by now. I know how to pretend I don’t see the faces people make.


Which way to go? The first way is one that could be a move in any exploration of wonder. The second way one could be used when we have a text to explore. Ah, the beauty of having more than one class. I can try both and see what comes up. Clearly this line of inquiry will continue throughout the text. Students are keenly aware and concerned about this and will be on the look out for it. 

Reflecting on this, a couple of things pop out at me. First, curiosity drives independent work and thinking. And second, close reading could be authentically pursued when it is a possible source for answers we are driven to find. Thinking is hard but thinking about something we are interested in is, well interesting.  



Celebrate: The Year To Come

celebrate link up

The process of learning is difficult. We ride alongside learners. We come with love and passion for what we know to be true and valuable. We want to share this with our students. There are times when that love is clearly felt and then reflected back on us.  And there are times when things fall flat or even go backward. When what you thought was going to be great, but wasn’t. When you just didn’t have it. Or when someone else diid something they shouldn’t. And then we as teachers are left with the student who is hurt or by ourselves, trying to figure it out.  

Today I celebrate the year in front of me.  Today I celebrate students that make me look forward to the learning and growth to come. They grow so much every year. I am lucky to be a part of it.

Mark hates, hates, hates reading a book a week. That’s what he wrote on his student survey yesterday. While this is clearly not what I wanted to hear, it made me smile. The fact that he was clearly stating what he felt, not what I wanted to hear, made me celebrate. I can trust what he tells me is the truth. This is something we can build on.

Jordan loves, loves, loves food. He is a thinker, but sometimes it doesn’t look like it.  He gets in trouble on the yard. Doesn’t do his homework. Sometimes refuses to do what he is asked to do. Sometimes he out and out lies. It doesn’t look like it, but he wants to learn, to do well. I know it and we have a team of adults at school to support him. We have this year, the last year before middle school. This year to build strategies to support him and how he approaches learning.

Jessica came to me at lunch. Mrs. Harmatz, can I talk to you about something, starts the conversation. She goes on to tell me how her dad said she wasn’t a good writer or reader.  That she writes like a kindergartener and doesn’t understand what she is reading.  Those words knocked the wind out of me. Where this child falls on the continuum of 5th grade ability isn’t the point. It doesn’t matter.  It seemed in this moment she just wanted to tell me this. And as I stumbled around trying to say that she was amazing without undermining her parent, she goes on to say I will be better I will work harder because you can’t give up, I will be resilient.  As painful as this situation is, I celebrate the fact that she came to me. That we have a year together, to grow her and her family towards a positive mindset.

Today I celebrate the year to come.




Slice of Life: Reading Lessons in Unsuspecting Places


There is a printer in the hallway, and two printers in the garage. The ones in the garage are there because  no one has been able to make them work our wifi. Monday our printer in the house stopped working.  I told my husband figuring we’d probably need another printer.

“We’ve got two in the garage,” he says.

“And they don’t work.”

He just looks at me and says, “Yes. They. Do.”

“Okay, where’s the manual?” I say, thinking he doesn’t have it.

Surprisingly he shows up with it.

Even more surprisingly, I figure it out in about 5 minutes. Bam! I’m printing. “Yes! I am awesome!”  Feeling rather full of myself, I tell my husband, “If you could find the manual for that receiver, I bet I could figure that out.”

Minutes later he hands me the manual.

Not sure why I asked for this. About two weeks ago, somehow the audio stopped working on the TV. No idea why, and up to this point I really didn’t care. There are four remotes and many boxes and switches involved. All of this has given me a complete hands-off relationship with the equipment.  Because I rarely watch TV, I forget how to turn the thing on. Consequently, I only watch something if someone else is. And even then, I usually walk away.

What was I thinking. Me fix the receiver?  I’m not completely sure what a receive does. Receive something, but what and how is mystery.

Faced with my self-inflicted challenge, I opened the manual and turned to the diagram of the console. Yep, lots of buttons.  I sink down on the hard wood floor and read the display on the receiver. It says, “SAT.” I think, well the date’s off, it’s Monday. But that  has nothing to do with sound.

I study the page, searching for anything that might have to do with audio. The diagram delineates every knob and its purpose. I read it aloud, because that’s what I do with difficult text. “Number 14 – source.” I trace the line that leads me to the knob. “Number 18 – volume.” Again I locate the dial on the diagram and then find it on the black box. I turn the knob. Nothing. Back to the manual and  I look at the explanation of “source,” I read aloud, “SATELLITE/CABLE.” Oh maybe that’s what SAT means?

I touch the source dial

Flip:  GAME.

Flip:  HTML.

Flip : TV and… sound

Ha! I am a technology rock star.

My husband and daughter are in awe.  Both want to know how I did it.

What did I do? I ventured into foreign territory, but I had a history of a little success so I was ready to try. I had time, no pressure. I stumbled around a bit in the text, but I  took my time and played around. I asked myself, what made sense and tested it. It didn’t work, so I tried something else. Tested it and bam it worked!

This got me thinking about how a struggler faces text and how we teach reading. What did I do?

I had a bit of confidence and time to process. I  read aloud. Questioned.  Tested it. Got feedback. Re read with the feedback in mind, and tried again.

In the end, I got it and felt good about me.

Now if that happened for students as they work through a text; what readers we would have.

Thanks to Tara, Dana, Beth, Stacey, Anna and and Betsy at Two Writing Teachers who provide our Slice of Life sharing space. Find more slices and add your own here.

Celebrate: How Language is Our Doing

Time to Celebrate the Week with Ruth Ayers. Thank you Ruth for this weekly space. It centers me around what is and was good; pulls me towards the growth of good; pushes me to capitalize on strength. Find more celebration posts here.

celebrate link up

One: An email from our son. Love his words.

Greetings from Morocco!

Just kidding. Hello from San Sebastian! The water is incredibly clear here, the beaches beautiful, the Basque countryside a natural wonder, the tapas a culinary adventure. . There’s always something just over the horizon, ready to unveil itself. I also bought The Great Gatsby in Paris and fell back in love with the story and the writing. I’ve already read it twice, going on a third.

Two:  A wonderful dinner with Elsie (aka Leann Carpenter). Lovely Leann who so graciously invited me to meet her for dinner and then waited too long for me to get through Los Angeles traffic. It was a beautiful California summer night as you can see.  It’s so fun to meet a fellow blogger in the flesh. We know so much about each other based on written words. To be able to hear those words and share a meal is a such a treat.  Wonderful to be with you Leann, I owe you one!

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Three: Brown Girl Dreaming showed up on my doorstep. I ordered it in June, after I heard Jacqueline Woodson speak at TCRWP’s Summer Reading Institute and it does not disappoint. It is quite simply, beautiful. Each chapter is a masterpiece that can stand on its own. I am half way through, the pages fly by, and I keep circling back to savor certain parts.

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Below are a few excerpts that  hit me; made me think of  my current students and of the many students who have read and struggled to read in my classroom.

Woodson is a born storyteller and her love affair with words is clear, but reading words was a struggle as a child. Living in the academic shadow of her gifted older sister, this passage from “Gifted” pulls at my heart.

She is gifted

we are told.

And I imagine presents surrounding her.

I am not gifted. When I read, the words twist

twirl across the page.

When they settle it’s too late.

The class has moved on

I want to catch words one day. I want to hold them

then blow gently,

watch them float

right out of my hands.

Reading is such an amazing and personal process.  Those who “get it,” like Jacqueline’s sister, seem to have a magical gift that is elusive for those who come to reading in a different way and on a different time table. Such a reminder to honor and wait for readers like Jacqueline; making sure we don’t leave them behind.

And this excerpt from “Believing”  reminds me to understand and give some room for writers whose personal narratives seems a little less than true.

It’s hard to understand

the way my brain works–so different

from everybody around me.

How each story

I’m told becomes a thing

that happens,

in some other way

to me….!

This from “Composition Notebook” made the composition notebook buyer in me smile and reminds me to look for those gifts in my students I “can’t begin to understand.”

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Four: Students writing whatever they want for 15 minutes every morning. Friday, I walked around the classroom surveying what they were writing about. I found:

  • four in the moment observing the goings on in the classroom.
  • one was a stream of thought,
  • one all about what he was good at,
  • three continued their work from the day before,
  • one fairy tale,
  • one informational writing on rubber (yes, rubber),
  • one was a reflection on lying,
  • nine personal narratives,
  • one all about dogs,
  • two I don’t know what to write/have much to say writing,
  • one writing about “Brave” by Sara Bareilles,
  • one wondering about what would happen today.
  • two theme park narratives,
  • two what I’m going to do this weekend

I want to celebrate the diversity of writing. The choices that were made freely and without prompting. The fact that some didn’t know what to write, but wrote anyway. I want to celebrate the beginnings of a writerly life.

Five:  Finally, a link to the most recent On Being  blog and podcast that features Marie Howe, the state poet of New York. I listened to the podcast today and find her and her views of our world stunningly down to earth and necessary.  One big aha was how “doing” in our current world is  dominated by language, and hence the importance and power in it. Click on the link above and enjoy her poetry, storytelling and thinking on language, happiness, being present, and family,

Happy long weekend to you all.


Slice of Life: Moments That Bubble and Pop

It’s Tuesday and time for Slice of Life. I wanted to write a small moment personal narrative; what my students are currently working on. Tomorrow they flash draft.

I dove into my notebook to find something story worthy, but the story walked into the room and announced itself. After writing tonight, the anger of the moment is largely diffused. Emotions didn’t escalate as the same situation might have a few years ago. Dare I celebrate that fact? What follows is a teeny slice of parenting life. A story that irritates momentarily, and dissipates quickly.


I’m tired. It’s 8:31, but feels like 11:31. Monday  evening and I just lost it with my daughter.

I’m sitting in the living room, dressed in my pjs and sweat shirt,  checking emails.

She walks up to me and asks, “Can we go to Trader Joe’s?”

“Wait I tell her,” not really listening, “I need to respond to this.”

She walks away.

Time passes.

The door creaks open and she walks out of her bedroom. She stands over me,  the keys to the car in her hand. It dawns on me she wants to drive, and for some reason, tonight I just don’t want her to. It’s not that driving with her is that bad. She’s really good, for a 16-year old. I just don’t want her to drive now and tell her so.

Her reaction is immediate: the look on her face, the tone of her voice.  I can see her digging in her heels.

Most of the time, I don’t fight this kind of a battle. It just doesn’t come close to registering on my things-to- die-on-the-sword-for gage. But tonight, I’m just not in the mood to give in.  “No, I’ll drive,” I say.

“Fine,” she said.  “I’ll starve,”and walks to her room.

Mind you, our refrigerator is full. But not with the particular dietary needs she requires at this time.

I’m irritated but that passes as I sink into writing.  Interesting to note, the door to her room doesn’t slam shut. Just a quiet and normal sounding shut. Clearly her request wasn’t worth the fight.

I’m relieved. A small moment that might have blown up in the past, just slipped away.

For those of you who have or have had a teenage girl, I hope you can identify with this silly clash of wills. I hope I’m not alone. Sometimes these moments just walk in unannounced, rising up from who knows where and then slink off.

The beasts go to bed. Sleep should provide transformation by morning.




Thank you Two Writing Teachers for this space to be and become writers. A place to share moments, the good and the not so good.

Thank you Tara, Stacey, Beth, Anna, Dana and Betsy for your wonderful blog. Find more posts and add your own here.