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!

2014-08-26 20.23.54-2

 

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.

2014-08-29 15.58.35

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.”

2014-08-29 15.57.41

 

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.

11454297503_e27946e4ff_h

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.

Celebrating the First Two Weeks of School: Wild Reading and Writing Genius

Time to celebrate the week with Ruth Ayres! Link up and celebrate your week here.

The second week of school is done and i have to admit my mind is a little scrambled by the process of sorting out my two classrooms. Getting to know them is a crazy process. Honoring each person for who they are, and then understanding how they all fit together with you is a challenge, but at the same time quite wonderful. So first I must celebrate that process. With all of it’s messiness, the stories I’m learning and the stories we are creating.

We started Genius Hour work on Thursday. First we defined genius as the act of solving a problem in a way that no one has done before. That a genius looks at something that others are stuck on, and gets the world unstuck. How we all have an obligation to share our gifts and genius with the world. To “mine” our genius we listed what we love, something we could do forever never get bored. Then we listed what bothered us, things that we saw around us that just weren’t right in the world.

2014-08-21 12.47.422014-08-21 14.03.58

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Such an interesting way to find out what matters and what troubles them. It’s also a fantastic way to activate the idea that they can and they need to take charge of their lives; that they can do something and create their lives.  Today I celebrate my 59 geniuses and Joy Kirr’s amazing resources that helped me introduce this thinking. Find the link here.

This week we started setting up reading partnerships. When I say we, I really should say “they.” I started conversations with individuals asking about their reading lives that included their partnership history. Most have a keen knowledge of who was a good partner for them, so I let them lead me to the beginnings of this work in our classroom. It takes time. More time than some were willing to tolerate. Wednesday morning, in between reading conferences, I looked around the classroom and noticed students (who haven’t been officially partnered up) sitting beside each other with same books.  Tired of waiting for their turn with me they just did it.  I celebrate these wild readers taking charge of their reading lives.

I want to celebrate 15 minutes of just writing. Every day, at the beginning of our day,  we just write. There are no rules except to write. It’s now a practice.  After writing we share our strategies and our growth we found while writing. Here are a few ways we find our writing:

Reflect on yesterday

Notice what is around us

Find ideas in our writing to write more about

Wonder why

Be inspired by other’s writing

Draw, doodle

Finally, I celebrate Saturday mornings that allow the time to collect the pieces of the week that are truly wonderful.

 

Slice of Reading Life in Room 5

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hTuesday. I love this day because it is a day I get to write for Slice of Life. I probably wouldn’t write if it didn’t exist. Because, you know I’m busy, busy start of school. But oh how much this process and processing does matter. Thank you Tara, Dana, Stacey, Anna, Betsy, and Beth of Two Writing Teachers for hosting a this day. Read others and add your own slice here.

At dinner last night my husband asked me about my day.  I talk about my students. How funny they are. How much I like them. Last night I didn’t have much to say. Not because I had changed my feelings about them, quite the opposite. I felt like the day wasn’t good enough for them and told him as much. Frankly I told him, I was bored with myself.

“Good thing there is a tomorrow,” he said.

So true. Then I thought on the reading rhythm of the day, and I revised my thinking, as I thought about the get to know you conferences from the day.

The “I’m not sure what to make of it” reading conference:

Me: So I see you are almost done with Super Chicken Nugget Man (a classic). Can you tell me a little of your thinking?

We have been talking a lot about character. How what characters do, say, think are windows to the types of people they are.

AG: Hmmm. Well I think the character’s name is Fern.

Me: Oh…

AG: Let me look.

We flip through the pages together. It looks like Fern is Super Chicken Man in disguise. I can understand some of his confusion. Perhaps it’s the secret identity that’s got him confused.  At one point, we agree Fern and Super Chicken Man must be one in the same. But later he comes back to me saying it can’t be he same character.

Me: Hmm…  But how does that fit with what came early on in the book? When he tell us he is Super Chicken Man.

AG: Do you want me to figure it out?

Me: Well I’m confused and I’m wondering about it. Confusion needs to be paid attention to. It needs to tell you something.  How might you deal with this?

AG: OK. I’ll look back.

He wasn’t pleased. I make a note to check up with him tomorrow.

The quick conference that works the way you want it to:

Me: Hey, M how’s Origami Yoda. Could you share one of your jots with me?

MT: Hmm. I’m not the kind of reader who jots.

Me: Ok, I see. Are you the kind of reader who talks about reading.

MT: Oh yeah!

He went on to tell me all about Derek and his thinking about him. Clearly he had ideas and the book was working for him. But clearly we needed to up his work, knowing he will need to put some of his thinking  on a page some day soon. We work a bit together. I leave an artifact to work from and make a note to check in tomorrow.

The unexpected conference at the end of Readers Workshop:

BG: Mrs. Harmatz this is kind of a hard book.

She shows me Paperboy.

Me: (thinking, hmm maybe too early in the year for this) Tell me why.

BG: It’s hard to know who is talking.

Me: (l look at the text) Oh because there are no dialogue tags and no quotation marks.

BG: Yeah, I mean I get the why there aren’t many commas. Because he doesn’t like them because of his stutter. But…

Me: (wow, wow, I can’t believe she’s noticing this) Wow I hadn’t noticed that. (And I hadn’t.) You really make me think. Do you think there are no quotation marks on purpose? Do you think that it’s like the commas?

BG: Yeah maybe because he doesn’t like to talk.

Me: We’ll I’m reading my copy tonight. Do you think you can understand it without the dialogue tags?

BG: Sure!

Me: Ok, what are you reading tonight.

BG: I’ll read about 50 pages, maybe more. Can you keep up?

The as the bell rings conference:

MM: Mrs. Harmatz, I LOVE THIS BOOK.

PLEASE NOTE: This comes from a STRUGGLING READER. My strugglers, and I have quite a few, are those who want to do well, but something is in their way. For some it’s processing, some it’s focus, some language, some it’s a mix of all of the above. But they don’t struggle as thinkers. They struggle in traditional text at their reading level that do not hold their attention–probably because they aren’t engaging a 10 year old mind. These readers who struggle all have their heads down and are immersed in the worlds of AMULET, The Warriors, Bone and Dragonbreath. One student told me he read his book four times. Engagement, yes. Close reading you bet! Time to look closely at the power of graphic novels.

Me: YOU made my day.

 

Celebrate This Week: Why We Teach

It’s Saturday and time to Celebrate This Week with Ruth Ayers!  Find more celebration posts here.celebrate link upFifth grade teachers see the culmination of the work of an elementary school. We send them off and wonder. Our students move on to middle school and we don’t always know what happens. A few who have siblings at our school came back last Thursday, so proud and a little awkward in their new middle school persona. Seeing these “old” student with the new crop of fifth graders gives me so much to celebrate.

First I celebrate Angelica. She’s going to a middle school that starts in a few weeks, so she’s been coming to school every day helping in our classrooms. And I do mean helping — organizing books, supplies, charging iPads. Now that we have students, she’s helping students. At the end of the first day of school she apologized , “I’m so sorry for talking too much!  How do you guys do it?” The maturity of an eleven year old. Love it!  Her smile and and exuberance is a constant reminder of why we do what we do.

Second I celebrate Christian, a guy who had the courage and know how to stand up for himself. He was placed in a sixth grade remedial English classroom that he knew wasn’t right for him. He had no elective. Upset, but determined he went on his own to the counselor’s office, scheduled an appointment, and then informed them of their mistake. He knew he was a more capable; he was a good reader. He said he was insulted by how they treated him,” like a child.” So interesting his take on this. I am so proud that he knew what he could do and stood up to adults at a new school to make sure he got what he needed.

Third I celebrate my current students’ families. I sent home a “help me get to know your child” survey. I am always so touched by what parents write. If I was to choose one thing to do with parents at the beginning of the year, it would be this. You get so much from this short survey. My form was inspired by the insightful Pernille Ripp @pernilleripp. Get your own here.  One area that came out across the board was in response to the question: “What is the best way to  motivate your child.” The vast majority said PRAISE and ENCOURAGEMENT. Not money or prizes. Beautiful. It made me think of the encouragement provided by the Sugata Mitra’s “granny cloud.’

Fourth I celebrate two new students; one who comes from a local parochial school the other from Texas. Both are potentially fish out of water. Coming in to a group of students who have known each other for years, but these two have entered the classroom with their own set of skills and willingness to learn. Both have stepped up unafraid to face new academic and social challenges. Only ten years old and so brave.

Fifth I celebrate my student’s insightfulness and courage. They created, refined and prioritized their own questions around a focus topic using the Question Formulation Technique. I blogged about it here and here. They worked through one question focus: Writing is Hard. The results were a great assessment of attitude toward writing but what I want to celebrate is the students’ reflection on the importance of learning how to question.  Their responses reassure me that this year will be a great one:

It’s important to learn how to question because when we are older we will ask better questions.

You don’t need help from any teachers, it’s better to do it yourself.

You think a lot when you make questions.

Making questions is like a treasure, because it can be hard to find.

We can use this for survival… to figure things out…in everyday life

Today I celebrate why we teach and love what we do: parents that want the best for their kids and students’ exuberance, bravery, thoughtfulness and willingness to take the journey with us.  We are so lucky to have such gifts.

Slice of Life: Jumping Into the School Year

It’s Tuesday and Slice of Life is happening at Two Writing Teachers. Thanks to Dana, Tara, Betsy, Stacey, Beth, and Anna. Join in and post a slice. Read more here.
11454297503_e27946e4ff_hIt’s the first day of school, and we see nothing but possibility.  Armed with new shoes and a new backpack;  we know this year will be different, better, maybe even great.

But success doesn’t come easily for everyone. It will take work and desire to achieve our goals. We may be tempted to give up. Get out, because it seems like we won’t  get there. The desire to succeed fades when the work load feels impossible.

The question is, how do you find reason to come back and try again when it would be easier to give up. How do you work harder, even though you aren’t there, yet.

The struggle to achieve academically always reminds me of swimming. I’ve been a runner all my life, but over time I’ve had to run less.  Masters swimming, a team activity, has become a supplement to my daily run. You have a coach and swim in a lane with a group of people at your level. There is a fair amount of socializing during and after swimming.  The fast “kids” swim in different lanes on different intervals. The coach gives stroke instruction and modifies the workout, based on ability. Some can go faster and do more, others take it slower and do less yardage. Sound familiar?

I’m not one of the fast kids, and I’ve accepted this. No illusions. And even though I struggle, I still come back.  Some days are better than others and I think, hey I’m not so bad. Some days I get a tip and it gives me something to focus on. I feel like I’m getting better.  As I look over at those swimmers who are so fast and make it look so easy, I wonder why do I keep coming back.  I’ve come up with this list  — the good days, the tip that gives me a boost and focus,  the friendship of swimmers like me to achieve our goals no matter the level, and I actually like doing it.  I work hard  for  a couple of reasons when people in my lane push me, when I am given personalized instruction, feedback, and when I think the coach is watching.

How could this look in reading and writing?  Coach students so they find the good days,  provide the tip that gives a boost and focus, allow for social connections to build community, and find things in reading and writing they like to do. Group students with like abilities, but also with those who can give a push. Give instruction, feedback, and monitor.

Today we start our 5th grade journey. We’ll jump in and warm up, opening our notebooks and putting the date at the top of the page. Later we will do our best work  on demand, showing how well we can write.

We will work with others like us and find connections. We might find we like it, and decide to work towards goals that might seem hard, but with instruction, community, feedback and close monitoring, we will work harder and keep coming back for more.

Happy first day of school.

 

Celebrate: Choice Words and Waiting for Stories

It’s the last Saturday before school starts and it’s time to celebrate this week with Ruth Ayers. Thank you Ruth for the opportunity to link up with others who share. Read more celebration posts here.
celebrate link up

This week I’m celebrating Choice Words and waiting for stories.

1. There are stacks of empty notebooks.  They are closed, undecorated, and waiting.

2. Two bags of two pocket file folders They are leaning up against the notebooks, waiting.

3.  Boxes of  pens –  blue Bic ball point and black Flair pens They are capped and waiting.

4. Thirteen iPads – Fully charged, stacked, and waiting.

5. A Library of Books  – informational, realistic fiction, historical fiction, poetry They are in boxes waiting.

The room is empty, quiet, clean. Waiting.

Waiting for 58 students to come and fill up the room with noise, questions, wonderings, ideas. Words that will fill paper, electronic devices, the air and our minds. This is the excitement of the unknown every new school year. All of that possibility of what might be.

Every child walks in looking at those beautiful new notebooks ready to be filled. The new pens ready to spill out words, words, words  and books ready to be explored.

They walk in the first day with hopes and dreams; with wonder of what will be accomplished. They all walk in new. Almost.

Students walk in with stories of what they have been.  How they see themselves. How others see them.  As they walk in, there is hope of new beginnings. That clean slate feeling of all that is possible in a new year.

This week I’ve been re reading Peter Johnston’s Choice Words. Last year what stuck with me was one word, “yet.” I hold that word close because it offers  hope and the acknowledgement of a continuum of growth.

This year the idea of narratives resonated with me: how narratives set us up for success. When we have a sense of agency our personal narratives reflect it. Students who come into a classroom with narratives filled with success or more importantly, stories that show a they are problem solvers have a sense of agency. Their stories might sound like: “it may be hard but, I’m the kind of person who can handle it, figure it out, get it done.” The question is how can we teachers promote this kind of narrative.

This year I’m holding on to these choice words from Johnston:

The heart of a good narrative is a character who encounters a problem and by acting strategically, solves it, usually (but not necessarily) attaining a goal. The following examples of teacher comments are likely to influence the sense of agency children experience in the stories they tell about themselves as literate individuals.

How did you figure that out?

What problems did you come across today?

How are you planning to go about this?

Where are you going with this piece (of writing)?

Which part are you sure about and which part are you not sure about?

Why would an author do something like that?

Why?

Next week we will walk into the classroom ready to learn, to become, to create narratives.

This year I’m holding on to the idea of creating narratives that build agency.

This week I’m celebrating Choice Words and waiting for stories.