Slice of Life: Media Monday

Last Friday, my students struggled through a reading pre-assessment. The question asked them to “explain” how a small part of the a story fit into the whole. They had to “discuss” how it might “develop” the theme.

It was painful to watch. They will get there, but last week, this was a stretch for most.

I wanted to start the week with something that gets students’ attention. Something that wakes them up after a weekend. With this objective in mind, I planned/promised myself that Mondays would be “Media Mondays.”

Movies capture our attention. They can present literature in ways that allow students to think through difficult literary concepts that they might not be able to access in traditional text.

Hoping that the connections might be made to earlier read alouds, I chose this clip for its “punch” and its message.

It got their attention.

After the initial viewing, we watched again looking for clues to characters or possible themes. Students had to stay within the confines of this scene. Evidence had to be there to support their ideas.

Boys in the center: karate . . . fighting.

Me:  Say more about that.

Over in the corner: Bullying . . .

Down in the front: Upstanders and those who do nothing are the bystanders.

Me: Let’s watch it again. Look for big ideas. Ideas that might reach beyond just this text.

The clip ended, and talk began:

I’m thinking the blond boy stands out for a reason.

He’s trying to help.

He’s blond for a reason.

The Karate Kid was like him once.

Maybe he had this happen to him.

Maybe he’s there to show how The Karate Kid can fit in.

Yeah, he speaks the language.

I’m connecting this to One Green Apple. How it’s hard to come to a new country.

Yeah, it’s like when you speak a different language it’s really hard to fit in.

They seem to hate him like some of the kids didn’t like the girl in One Green Apple.

Maybe the blond boy is kind of like the green apple. He stands out like the green apple.

Maybe it’s showing that the newcommer will fit in. Some day.

Wowie.  Students don’t know it yet, but they nailed a craft move.

Just like Dre in The Karate Kid and Farah in One Green Apple, students know a lot but, they haven’t learned the language. With time, tools and instruction, they will and fit right in and become fluent in the literary landscape.

Media Monday was crazy good. Can’t wait till next week.

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for  Slice of Life Tuesdays. A place to read, write and share our lives. Read more slices here.

Digi-LIt Sunday: Get In Touch With the Power of Talk

A few years ago I started this blog with the intent of reflecting on my teaching and writing practices. When I started, I had no idea what learning and friendship would grow out of it. Blogging, along with Twitter and more recently Voxer, has created a network of colleagues all over the country that develop my teaching life daily. Without a doubt, I am a better teacher because of these connections, because of my growing digital literacy.

Every Sunday, Margaret Simon hosts a Digital Literacy link up. I always read, but I don’t always contribute. This weekend, I’m pushing myself to reflect on my practice with a digital literacy lens.  I encourage you to do the same and link your post here.


This week, I connected with two teachers.  We sat in three different cities, in three different time zones and planned for students to work together. Our students connected a bit last year, but this year we wanted more.

We started with a few tweets. That lead to a Voxer discussion as to time. Finally, we met up on a Google Hangout and hashed through a bunch of ideas. At the end of our talk, we had the beginnings of a plan and a Google doc to continue our thinking and planning on.

As each of us get our kids ready to connect, ideas will spring up, and the lines of communication are open. But how to best communicate? Twitter is great for a quick message. We could share on the Google Doc. There’s email. Google Hang Outs are great but with time zone differences it doesn’t allow for spontaneity.

You know when you get an idea or a question or a “what if…”  When your thoughts are just starting, or you have a sudden aha, and you’d like to get some feedback.  That’s where Voxer comes in.

For those of you who are not familiar/afraid of the Voxer app, let me say I was there. I thought, I have plenty of connections and ways to communicate, why should I get another thing going in my life. I thought Voxer was just more of the same. But it’s not. It provides for a different kind of communication.  

If you’re a literacy teacher, you know about the power of talk. Talk helps get those morsels of possibility going. Things students aren’t ready to commit to paper. Things that live in their heads and could be developed, if they just talked about it. The same goes for adults. Talking about something is a powerful way to grow your thinking. Voxer can give you that power.

The Voxer app lives on your smartphone for free. When you use it, you can connect with anyone who has the app and send them a text, picture or URL link. That’s great. But the power of Voxer lies in the “walkie-talkie” feature. You press the button and talk. Your voice message is recorded and saved on the Voxer app. Just like an email, text or tweet, your recipient(s) can look/listen and respond when they have the time.

You can join a group or create a chat (a group of colleagues) on the Voxer. In a chat, your messages will go to the entire group for feedback and conversation. Margaret mentioned her experience with the Writing About Reading Voxer chat group in her post today.

Have a question, just sent it our to your group, and get back some thoughtful comments. It’s like walking down the hall, knocking on a colleague’s door, and having a conversation.

I strongly encourage you to download the Voxer app. Find a friend on it and sent them a Vox. See what happens. If you want to take it to the next level, ask a few friends to download it and set up a chat group of your own. Then if you want to reach out to talk about writing about reading in the classroom, consider finding me on Voxer and join in our Chat. We are a great group and would love your thoughts on writing about reading.

When you start on Voxer you might find yourself rambling a bit. Saying “I don’t know” or “I was just thinking” or “umm.” When that happens, know you’ve tapped into the power of talk.

Try Voxer and get in touch with the power of umm.


Celebrate: Beginnings as a Continuation

I find myself at the end of the first four days of school, exhausted and excited.

This week children entered my classroom with new backpacks, new shoes and neatly combed and perfectly braided hair.

This week name tags beckoned students to their new place in a brand-new grade.  New notebooks, book baggies, and a basket full of writing tools were waiting.

We started by defining what we value. What we need to be successful, what we want to achieve and what we can give our community. Each child has a history. Each child brings hope — to grow and become. The community is new, but the needs continue. This week, I celebrate the beginnings of community and the continuation of growth in a new classroom.


At the end of last school year, I visited my soon-to-be students and gave them a writer’s notebook for the summer. All summer I sent them letters with tips for writing. As I put those 60 letters in the mailbox each week, I wondered if they made a difference. Was this too old fashioned to get students’ attention? I wondered if they would walk in with their summer notebooks empty or not at all. I wondered.

This week we started with writing and a student asked, “Should we use our summer notebooks?” My heart jumped. They remembered.

Some students wanted to continue in their summer notebook. Others wanted a new one for the school year. Some summer notebooks were half filled with writing. Others were untouched. One student left the carpet, and the brightly colored letters tumbled out.

After school, a parent told me, “Every day my daughter would say, ‘Let me get the mail!’ She was so excited to get those letters!”

Another parent said, “He feels like he knows you already, so starting the school year was easier.”

On Friday, students were finishing up an assessment. One boy handed me his work and asked, “Can we write?”

While I can’t quantify the effect of the summer notebooks for the class as a whole, these comments are cause for celebrating the continuation of students’ writing lives in a new classroom.

Thanks to Mary Howard and Julian for this inspiration!

This week, students reclaimed their book baggies. They had chosen these books at the
end of the school year.

By Friday, enough students had finished books for a book swap/talk. We celebrated and posted recommendations on our “Twitter board.” This beautiful beginning would not have happened without the solid practices of previous teachers and support of parents. This week I celebrate the continuation of reading in a new classroom.

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This week we set the stage for the first round of student-instigated Genius Hour learning, we started with what we are passionate about and what bothers us.  I love this list. From the necessary — food– to the sophisticated — robots. From local issues — recess play areas– to global concerns — human trafficking. This week I celebrate the passions and potential in all kids. 

Finally, this week, a student stopped by to show his former imgresteachers his new school pennant.  “It’s the best university in the world.”  He was so proud. We are so proud. He made our week!

This week I celebrate students and all they bring to us every day. 

Reflecting on and celebrating the week allows me to see and value each day.  Thank you, Ruth, for this beautiful practice. Find more celebrations here.

celebrate link up

Slice of Life: The First Day

School is here, and those first-day jitters fill me. They always do.

Today, I hold up what drives my teaching practice, my values.  Thinking about this helps focus the first day of school and each and every day throughout the year. These values provide a filter.

First: I value time. Time for students to do the work. Time to read, to write, to think and to discuss. Students should spend at least 80% of their time doing the work. If not, who is learning.

Second: I value authenticity. If I can not see the practice in the world, if I would not do it myself, if I have not tried doing it, students should not be doing it.

Third: I value choice. Students should have a reasonable choice in what they read and write. Choice allows for accessibility and greater engagement. Without engagement, there is no learning.

Fourth: I value “yet.” All students can learn, they just may not be there yet. It’s our job to keep them growing.  And, growth is linked to time. Getting better at something requires time doing it. Something to remember with our students who struggle. They need time to do.

Fifth: I value relationships that respect the individual as a part of the community. Building relationships takes time and lots of listening.  It is essential for a classroom that works toward cooperation, not through compliance. Without relationships, everything else is compromised. I start my year, with this on my mind.

Today, I hold on to words of my wise colleagues.

I have Tara’s words

On that first day, they are watching me more closely than they possibly ever will, I need to show them that I practice what I preach.

Jessica’s words

The minute you walk through that door you become one of my students.

and Dana’s words

Writing workshop thrives on relationships and builds them at the same time.  Be intentional as you plan the first days and weeks of your writing workshop.  Make room for relationship building.   Relationships matter.

Their words center and calm me.

Tonight, I pull out my notebook and write. What I want for our class. What I value. What I want to run through each and every lesson of every day.

We will

start with writing

and add in the reading

look for the bits of the literary in our lives

that hide in the music, the recipes, the directions, the video games.

We will

generate powerful-purposeful-personal thoughts

and define us as readers and thinkers.

This year

we will

discover what we value

develop our passions

notice what bothers us and

move to make a difference.


we will

find the inspiration that pushes us to do more

reach to the top of the tree and look out

hang on knowing that we are there for each other.

Thank you, Two Writing Teacher for space to share and support each other. Thank you, Anna,, Betsy, Beth, Dana, Deb, Kathleen, Stacey, and Tara. Read more slices here.


Celebrate: A-Ha’s

I can’t let this weekend slip by without tipping my hat to my a-ha moments this week.

Heat and the pressure of the impending school year built up and by Friday, I walked out of my classroom with a long to-do list. And here I sit, on Sunday night, with much of my list checked off, a fresh one made, and some realizations.

First: No matter how much time I have to get ready, I will always need more time. I will always have a new list.

Second: I will always have too many books for my space, and I will always need more books. This weekend we looked for new bookshelves and found none to our liking. However, I bought three books.

Third: I will always feel excited and a bit of anxiety at the beginning of the school year. That’s part of why I love it.

Fourth: I will always love school supplies. 3-M should create a monument to honor the teachers who have made a difference in their bottom line.

Fifth: I will always feel each year with students is a gift.  I have the best job. I get to think deeply with and about children as they learn.

This week I celebrate my a-ha’s: what (if I’m lucky) will always be true for me.

celebrate link up

Thank you, Ruth, for the Celebrate link up. I love coming to your place every weekend! Find more celebrations here.

Slice of Life: Reading Choices

The endless expanse of days to read and reflect and write are tightening up.

Once school starts my reading time will be curtailed.

I remember when I decided to go into teaching one of my biggest concerns was the disturbance of my reading life. I was fearful that my adult reading would disintegrate into kid lit.

I had no clue.

I was correct about my adult reading life. It withered. And I mourn the loss from time to time.  But there are aspects of my current reading life that have changed me in profound ways. The more I learn how to teach a reader or a writer to read like a writer, the more I discover about my reading and writing life.  Now it seems obvious, but at the beginning of my teaching journey, I had no idea. Discovering how reading and writing works is a passion I pursue willingly and at personal cost because it fascinates me.

I reflect on this because of a dinner conversation.

My high schooler was “asked” to read two books over the summer, Hamlet and Siddartha. My teacher self had to ask, what if you were given choice in this rather than being assigned a text.

She assured me she preferred the assigned books and would probably not have read any book over the summer if she had a choice. After some inquiry, her bottom line was that there would be no accountability for choice so she would not do it. With assigned books, there would be a discussion and a test. If it were a choice, she could just say she read a book.

I sat there. Taken aback. I had felt bad for her being assigned a text such as Hamlet without any instruction. But come to find out work that is assigned is in her comfort zone. Being required to do something with a test connected to it, motivated her.

“High school is not like elementary school,” she said. “It’s about points and tests. How can a teacher give you a grade without a test?”

My daughter is but one student on her journey. The lack of reading and choice disturbs me. The lack of instruction with a text like Hamlet shocks me. But what gets to me at my core is the training of students to be motivated by a grade. I realize that is our educational culture that reflects our society to some degree.

This accepted matter of fact way school goes worries me.

When I think back to my high school days, I was just like my daughter. I was assigned books. I didn’t read unless I was asked to. My reading life came to me after formal schooling. That’s when I embraced choice and became a reader and a learner. That was my path. I believe/hope this will happen for her as well. She is much more than just a grade and can do so much more than the assignment.

But this stance in education this treatment reading and learning worries me. An environment that only asks our students, especially high school students, to do as assigned to pass a test worries me. Does choice and active learning only exist in elementary school? Is this “do the assignment and take a test” the way of secondary education? Or is this just my slice of life?


Thank you, Two Writing Teachers Blog for this community of readers, writers, and learners. Read more slices here.

Celebrate this Week: The Last Bit of Summer Spirit

Icelebrate link upI’ve  been Spending my time reading celebration posts rather than blogging today. I was tempted to leave it at that. Afterall it’s summer. But after reading I couldn’t resist a bit of celebration. Habits are hard to break.

First: I celebrate all those who have been alongside me on the celebration journey these last 90 plus posts. You lift my heart every week. Thank you, Ruth, for giving us space and inspiration to share.

Second: I celebrate my Voxer communities of Writing About Reading, Reading Strategies and Good to Greaters. Your support is priceless. You grow my thinking and fill my heart. There is nothing quite like sharing the work we love.

Third: I celebrate the slower thoughtful days of summer. It’s a nice balance with the school years’s fifth grader spirit and energy.

Fourth: I celebrate a last mini vacation of summer to San Diego to visit our son.

Fifth: I celebrate the spirit of a very kind and thoughtful man who left us too soon. He was at the pool every morning with a smile and few jokes to keep you going. Love to you Ed. We miss you.

Poetry Friday: Uncomfortable Spaces

I’ve been wondering,

and to say this is difficult,


in fact,

you may not want to read on.

You might want to go on with the business at hand.


the “implicit bias” created by historical patterns,

making our brains assume,

affecting our think-do-say

keeping the walls in place.

and you away from me.

Because of my whiteness.

(There I said it.)

And here’s my wondering,

can we connect by

redefining our belonging?

poetry friday logo

Our racial divide has been on my mind for a long time. We need to talk about it, notice it. This morning I listened.

First to an On Being podcast that featured john a powell, Director of the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society and Professor of Law, African American and Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley.  What a brilliant man. He speaks of identity and communication. That we are all one and that we need to acknowledge it. Talk about it.

“We are connected. What we need to do is become aware of it, to express it….The human condition is about belonging. We can’t thrive unless we are in a relationship. (we need to) reframe our relationships with each other.”

And he brought up questions that offer some entry points.  Space to have discussions.

How do we acknowledge that connection?

How can we make belonging infectious?

How do we learn to care for each other?

And this:  “We must reflect on our deepest values to find our way of connecting.”

We are a nation defined by race. To ignore it is to ignore who we are. Proximity, contact and relationships; listening and valuing others. Noticing and naming and celebrating the connections that are being created.

The fastest growing demographic in the United States is not Latinos. It’s actually interracial couples and interethnic couples. That’s people themselves right now, not tomorrow, trying to imagine a different America, trying to say, “I can love anyone. I can be with anyone.” So I think we start looking for it, we see expressions all around it. Oftentimes, they’re not celebrated. They’re not talked about. There are no structures for them. So we have to embrace them and lift them up.

Absolutely. Lift them up and acknowledge the change that will lessen the divide.

Then, I listened to the podcast titled “Words that Shimmer” with Dr. Elizabeth Alexander.  In it she speaks of her growing up in a very educated, political family and her road to poetry.  This poem was written during her years at Harvard.

Ars Poetica #100: I Believe

Poetry, I tell my students,
is idiosyncratic. Poetry

is where we are ourselves
(though Sterling Brown said

“Every ‘I’ is a dramatic ‘I'”),
digging in the clam flats

for the shell that snaps,
emptying the proverbial pocketbook.

Poetry is what you find
in the dirt in the corner,

overhear on the bus, God
in the details, the only way

to get from here to there.
Poetry (and now my voice is rising)

is not all love, love, love,
and I’m sorry the dog died.

Poetry (here I hear myself loudest)
is the human voice,

and are we not of interest to each other?

— Elizabeth Alexander

Poetry is us. It’s noticing, listening. And that can create caring about and for each other.

Because I believe yes, we are of interest to each other.

Slice of Life: Under Cover

Children seldom misquote you. They usually repeat word for word what you shouldn’t have said. — Unknown

One towel covered me from head to toe. The towel beneath me absorbed water from my swimsuit.  Protected from the breeze, I huddled under cover. With the sun above and the heated concrete pool deck below, I found quiet. I loved this part of swim lessons. This plus the popsicle we’d get on the way home made it all worthwhile.

My eight-year-old body was positioned far enough away from the splash zone of the pool, near the chain link fence and the moms. Save haven.

I woke up to their voices.

“It’s sad,” one said.

“I don’t know why she brings her,” said one mom.

I knew that voice, she lived down the street.

“Poor thing just can’t do it,” said another.

“She shouldn’t be in this class,  it holds the others back. It just isn’t fair.”

That was Tucker’s mom.  I’d never heard her talk that way before.

“You have a point. Everyone has to wait.”

“Of course I have a point.”

My throat tightened.

Then, “Hello, all! Thanks for watching her.” It was Mom.

Did she hear them?

“No problem. She sleeping. Probably so tired from the lesson,” Tucker’s mom said all sweet.

My eyes hurt. I lifted the towel, rubbed my eyes and reached for my mom.

Going in the big pool took every bit of brave I had. Some days I didn’t have enough. This day was one of those days.

After that, shame took control. At first it hurt. I wonder if they knew. That made it worse. By the next day, the fear of drowning was nothing compared to my I’ll-show-you-attitude. Shame drove me to mad and then to prove something. Strange. Shame led to mad and took over fear. Was it pride?

I survived the pool incident. And I remember. If you think that’s what I needed to get on my brave, think again.  I overcame this moment, but it left seeds of doubt and scaring. I don’t always pull out from underneath the covers and approach my fear. Sometimes it’s too big or I’m too small.

This memory drives my thinking tonight as the start of the school year approaches. We need to be mindful. Not just of our 11454297503_e27946e4ff_htalk when we think no one’s listening. We need to be mindful of how we think about children’s abilities. Our thoughts drive our actions and our words that young minds can see, hear and remember.

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for this place to share our Tuesday slices. Read more slices here.

Celebrate: Engagement in Literacy

This week, I had the honor of spending four days in a room full of teachers learning with Cornelius Minor. Cornelius for 45 minutes is astounding, life-changing learning. Four days you can’t imagine. I suspect I’ll be mulling over my notes the whole school year. Today I want to celebrate and reflect on five pieces of learning.

First Lesson:

A lot of what makes a writer is what’s in the heart. Start where the heart is.  Consider the highs and lows in the writing life. Sketch the emotional EKG. The highs come from personal choice, feedback from someone you respect, and public acknowledgement. The lows come when personhood is denied, from personal tragedy, collective tragedy; when attention is only for grading.

As I look back on my school life, one class stands out.  In that class I wrote.  I spoke, I acted out dramatic scenes. I discovered I liked reading.  In that class, my ideas were heard and considered valuable. The writing we did was our choice and shared among our peers. That high school short story class gave me confidence, and the knowledge that reading and writing could be good. It was possible. Sadly, that was the first and last class. But the good news is that it took. Because of that class, I began a journey towards writing and reading. How does this inform my teaching decisions? If an environment exists that allows for confidence and engagement, the work will become a part of that student. The belief will live in them and fuel them as their abilities increase and through times when they hit bumps in their reading and writing lives.

Mastery is not the outcome engagement is.

Second Lesson:

Commit to the writing process in that it is a process. A lot of what we create is left on the cutting room floor. Create more cognition by repurposing what kids have to say. Create room for critical thinking – A place where kids are doing work around ideas before they write. Lead kids to be entrepreneurial in the work.

Classroom writing instruction should actively create spaces that produce thinking. How might that look? Gathering ideas for writing should include experiences of “text” that exists throughout our lives. The intent of this work is to relive or live experiences that conjure emotions. The sharing of story, read aloud,  pictures,  videos, music can create opportunities to talk, think and write a little about feelings and ideas.  Next, stretch students’ muscles by considering text with a shifted lens or filter it through another text. Allow students to practice the possibility that more than one idea can live in a text or can grow with exposure to another text. The idea is to get an idea. Not a “what happened” but a reaction to what happened. Stories and ideas live in emotions. Thinking can start by finding what we feel and then asking what does that make us think. Experiencing this process is empowering.

The writing workshop should trigger emotion.

Third Lesson:

Set high expectations. What you write today is the best thing that you have written in this class. If the draft is the best thing you’ve written to date, you are lifting the level in the end.

Too often students spend their time in their past learning. It’s a comfortable place to be. Working up to what students can do is a waste of their time and stops them from moving to what they need to do. How does this inform my instruction? The realization that every time you produce a draft it had better be the best thing you have ever produced is a cultural shift. Students’ energy builds in a unit and by the end, they produce a piece that shows growth. But strangely as we start the next unit, the draft is a notch lower than where they left off. That has been an expectation. And students have met it. And it needs to change.

“Students look at what you have just written, is it as good or better than your last piece? It needs to be. That’s the expectation.”

Fourth Lesson:

Conferences can be the most powerful tool in your teacher arsenal. A conference is your shot at being your kid’s favorite teacher. Sometimes even when I don’t have anything to teach I still use it.

Connecting to students is the most important part of the work. The challenge is to create the systems and maintain the energy around this with fidelity.  Data should direct effort. How might this look? Utilize technology to record conferences. Involve students in the record keeping, “would you take a picture of your work we’re talking about.” This will help me and get students to take a collaborative stance in our conferences. Create simple, written systems to make sure all students are covered. Reflect on data (checklists, conferences) with students throughout units. Create “go to” conferences that can be customized.

  • Writers develop stories around an object. You could do this by choosing an object, telling your story and right before the end, reflect. . . if it weren’t for this object . . .
  • Writers consider structure, one way to change up a story is to start with the outcome
  • Writers revisit a story by asking what other issues could be in this story. Could this story also be about . . .

Fifth Lesson:

This is not THE way it is A way to meet student needs.

Students are at the center. Their needs drive the work, and we adjust accordingly.  The goal is to build student confidence around cognition and literacy. Mastery is not the outcome. Lifelong engagement in literacy is. celebrate link up

Thank you, Ruth Ayers, for a place to share our weekly celebrations at Discover Play Build.