Slice of Life 31: Found Poetry

It has been a wonderful month, gone by so quickly. Thank you  TaraAnnaDanaStacey,  Betsy  and Beth  and all the bloggers who have contributed to  Two Writing Teachers  Slice of Life Challenge 2014. I hope many will keep slicing weekly–look for you tomorrow. Enjoy the month’s final slices here.
11454297503_e27946e4ff_hYeah WE did it! Number 31 of 31! Right here. I say we because without the community this wouldn’t be. The comments were so wonderful. I wanted to explore the comments, and see what I might find.

Found poems take existing texts and refashion them, reorder them, and present them as poems. The literary equivalent of a collage, found poetry is often made from newspaper articles, street signs, graffiti, speeches, letters, or even other poems.

See more here

I “found” this poem in the comments on my posts by  Terje, Tara, Fran, Linda, Elsie, Leigh Anne,  Ramona, Nancy, Stacey, Richard, Jaana, Kevin, Katherine, Margaret, Kim, and Michelle.


experience challenge
find inspiration
share gratitude

virtual me enjoyed
your thinking

the power of the small

just listening
“check I relate”

not judge
conversation critical!

so many “what ifs”
real work, naturally, like everything else

 magic memory

leap of faith jump and participate
uncomfortable territory
the process is paramount

The pains of growing
the comfort of knowing
someone will “listen”

incredibly strong
discipline and team.
What a treasure

words hushed

tender lasting memory
we would not likely ever forget
a lump in my throat

thoughts and actions mingled and changed

Slice of Life Day 30: Nearing the End with a New Beginning in Sight

The month of March is almost over as the 2014 Slice of Life March Challenge. Thank you, thank you  TaraAnnaDanaStacey,  Betsy  and Beth  and all the bloggers who contribute to  Two Writing Teachers . Enjoy other slices for day 30 here.

.11454297503_e27946e4ff_hI linger in bed, thinking of how to approach the morning. Sunday is the only day I can do this. Other days are largely predetermined. Sundays feel a little optional. Choice is present.

On my list of to do is this post, the second to the last of the March Slice of Life 2014. The second to the last of my first March Challenge. I lay here, covers over my head, blocking out the light and think on how to end this.  I compose this post in my head.  Bittersweet I think. That’s the word.

I think about big take aways, the personal and the professional. The two are not discrete elements. They are intertwined. One does not live without the other, because I am my classroom and my classroom is me. One thing I know for sure is what slicing gave me I want for my students.

This year the Classroom Slice of Life only worked for a few students, largely because I had a unit of study planned during this time. Those who participated did it in their spare time or recess time.  For most of my kiddos, writing is hard work. They love to blog, but on their own time they’d rather play on the yard, and frankly I don’t blame them. They are kids. They should run and play. For this to work they needed classroom time that I didn’t give them. Also they really didn’t have a community of writers to lean on. That was missing. My students need this community built that expects their presence.

Bottom line —

  • I want my students to consider themselves a community of writers who share and give their writing as a joy not an assignment.
  • I want them to touch each other’s lives daily with personal and academic thoughts.
  • I want them know each other and support each other as writers.
  • I want them to need to show up on the page because their writing friends are there and they deserve their presence.
  • I want them to be not only writers, but readers of writing that give support and thoughtful feedback.
  • I want them to define themselves as writers.
  • I want them to feel they are a part of a community who writes because that’s what we do.

This is the way I want to begin our school year and then continue through the year as a weekly challenge. Then when March rolls around the challenge will be something they will be able and willing to do.

For this year’s students, it’s not over yet. With a bit of schedule tweaking students can blog when they have technology and prepare for their slices on the days when they don’t. I think, I know they will love it!

Now I’ll get out of bed.

Dig Lit Sunday: QR Codes

One of my goals this year has been to increase the amount of digital writing in the classroom, so posting my digital learning on Sundays will push me a bit. Thank you Margaret for inviting me and I look forward to reading all of the thinking offered here. I am a beginner in this world, but what I do know is you must do to really learn!  I heard Katharine Hale and Troy Hicks’s podcast this morning. It is well worth a listen. That is exactly how I want my classroom to be. It is so great to have mentors out there blazing trails for the rest of us to follow on.

Last week I posted a little item about finally using QR codes in the classroom and Margaret asked me to write a little about it here.

my classroom blog

In a nutshell a QR (quick response) code can provide easy access to anything that is alpha numeric with a scan of the code. Typically it’s a URL. In an upper grade classroom where students have access to iPhones and iPads, this this a perfect way to give them quick access to information for research. I have used this to get them to websites quickly, no time is lost on typing in the URL. It seems silly, but I have seen students spend up to ten minutes trying to type in a URL. It takes away from their learning and usually another child’s learning as they help them. For sites we are going to use for a unit of study I have taken the time to load them on to the iPads, but that takes prep. With a QR code, all I need to do is print it out and students scan it. To create a QR code I like It allows for color which helps students get to the correct code to scan. Imagine today’s links for the debate are in red, for social studies in blue. A QR reader app need to be loaded on to iPads, but that is a one time thing.

There are amazing ways teachers have been using QR codes in the classroom. Check this google doc for many examples. I particularly like #52 on this list where students create their own scavenger hunt. Pretty cool stuff.

Slice of Life 29 and a Celebration

Today I celebrate with Ruth Ayres on her Celebration link up  and my 29th  slice in the March Slice of Life Challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers. Read more slices here.

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hI dragged myself to a swim workout this morning. Started out feeling very tired, wondering if I was going to make it through. Not wanting to shame myself by getting out early, I forged on deciding not to judge my effort too harshly, just do it I thought. And I did. By the end, I had left my negative persona in the pool and was greeted by a warm shower and locker room talk with women I’ve swam with for years. Some are literally world champions. Others, like me, are there to just complete the workout not aiming to win any trophies, but to start the day with a clean outlook on life.

When I woke up this morning I was beating myself up a bit as a teacher, wondering how I could write a celebration post. At home after coffee, I looked for inspiration on the Celebration link up.

celebrate link up

I found Linda Baie’s post that cited a quote from Ruth’s book on Celebrating Writers:

Celebrations ought to wrap around many moments in writing workshop–not just the final product. Celebration is essential to the livelihood of young writers.

Linda goes on to say how this is something to consider, not just in writing but for our lives.  Thank you Linda and Ruth for helping me find and secure a mindset that allowed me to hone in on pieces of my life very worthy of celebration. Here are seven things I’m celebrating.

One. My house is quiet and clean. I am very lucky to have someone who cleans my home on Fridays. Having a clean house to end a cluttered week and start the weekend is a year long gift my husband insists on. I thought it was too much, but he is wiling to pay for this. It is a wonderful weekly indulgence that I am grateful for.

Two. My daughter is on her way to becoming a licensed driver. On Friday she passed the written portion of her driver’s test. While the prospect of her behind the wheel is disconcerting, she is thrilled. I remember the feeling and I honor her celebration.

Three. My adventurous and interesting friends came to dinner. Last night, they shared their homemade soda beverage, toyon berry soda. It’s made with native toyon berries that grow in their backyard and throughout California. These non-native friends (Australian and German) rediscovered what the our native indians knew. When the toyon berry is steeped, the result is a natural tea beverage. Add a little yeast and volia! soda. Another interesting tidbit: the plant that blooms in the winter months is the California Christmas holly plant and the origin of the name Hollywood.

Four. My colleagues are open to risk and learning. This week was the first week of instructional rounds. The ones I took part in were positive and instructive.There is risk in this work. Done incorrectly it could subtly create a pecking order. Still, teachers willingly open their doors and let their colleagues in, so we can learn.

Five. My students  are filled with spring fever, but holding on tight for two more weeks. Our spring break is very late this year and students are getting antsy. It’s so interesting how learning, like all of living, is subjected to our biorhythms. I don’t know if it’s the weather, something in the air, the age of the student, or the amount of school they have taken in. Whatever the reason, they are ready for a break, from school and from each other. Tears have been shed over hurt feelings, less than performances have been experienced. And in spite of this, they keep on, doing as best as they can, even though their brains and bodies are resisting.

Six. My reflection on teaching is a good thing. After getting through the “I’m a lousy teacher” thing I do from time to time, I reflect and revise. It sounds counter intuitive, but I think one of the good things about me as a teacher is that I am hyper sensitive to the negative. Many times that is what I see in my teaching. It makes me very aware of my weaknesses. Lots of what I do is good, but I would not be growing if I didn’t look for the cracks in the teaching and the learning. Some are obvious. But more importantly, I need to look at places where I feel comfortable. Those are places to throw off the covers and look underneath. Test it and question, is is as good as I thought? Then revise!

Seven. My Slice of Life virtual writing colleagues are the best. I can’t thank those who write posts and read mine enough. I have grown, grown, grown this month. While parts of my life have suffered, (lack of sleep and bit of a cold) the rewards have far out weighted the negative. I only wish I had the energy to read and comment on more posts. So many,  so good.  Thank you, thank you  TaraAnnaDanaStacey,  Betsy  and Beth  and all the bloggers who contribute to  Two Writing Teachers .

Happy Weekend!


Slice of Life Day 28: Hearing Student Voices

During the month of March I am blogging daily with others in the Slice of Life Daily Challenge. Thank you  TaraAnnaDanaStacey,  Betsy  and Beth at Two Writing Teachers for providing and supporting this place to learn and grow. Read more slices here.


Today. What to write? Lots of thoughts. Overloaded brain. Things aren’t completely thought out. I may misspeak. That’s a difficult place to be when you are putting your words into the world. It happens. Just keep writing. That is the goal I told my students. That is your goal for today. So that’s what I’m telling myself on day 28 of the March Slice of Life Challenge.

Write don’t stop. Just write. It’s about fluency, I tell my students and myself. You must be fearless when you know someone might judge your writing. When students write they are judged. They are assessed as to what they need as a writer. What a vulnerable place to be. If someone was out there taking notes on my writing, categorizing my needs as a writer, designing a teaching point for me, would I feel good or bad about this? What would make me feel privileged to get their input. What would make me feel less than and want to hide and never write another word.

I remember one time when I was in a Teachers College workshop with Colleen Cruz, I was stuck. She walked up to me asked me a simple question. With my answer I knew where to go next.  It was magic. She just asked a question and opened my eyes to what was right there. I just wasn’t looking.  I’ll never forget that feeling. It was empowering. Nothing about it made me feel less than. It made me realize what I needed to reach for as a writer and a teacher of writing.

That magic aha moment is hard to give to students. What I am starting to see though, after years of doing this work, is that my mission is to nudge writers, ever so slightly in the direction that they are leaning that approximates forward. Pushing too hard will just result in a fall.

Hearing  what student writers are saying has taken time. Hearing what they are saying versus  hearing my thinking of where I’m trying to take them, is my challenge. What they think and say makes sense, perfect sense to them. Just like understanding phonetic writing, a teacher’s ear needs to be fine tuned to the nuance of what they say and see and how it relates to what they are attempting to do. With that understanding, I can nudge them on from where they are sitting. It takes patience and time of both teacher and  student. I’m just acquiring the ear for this work. Student voices seep in  when I stop myself  and just listen to what they are saying. Then I have the huge aha moment.


You my dear readers have put up with my meanderings over the last 26 days. Thank you. I do appreciate it. To those who continue to visit and take the time to comment. I can only hope I give back a little of what you all have given to  me.

A few slices ago I mentioned a podcast I was doing on twitter and blogging. if you have the time check this out. Listen for my lovely student voices. Unfortunately there isn’t enough of them in this podcast.


Slice of Life Day 27: Failure to Connect

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hDuring the month of March I am blogging daily with others in the Slice of Life Daily Challenge. Thank you  TaraAnnaDanaStacey,  Betsy  and Beth at Two Writing Teachers for providing and supporting this place to learn and grow. Read more slices here.

After school.The class is relatively clean and it’s quiet. Perfect. Prime time for responding, writing, tweeting.

Pull out the computer.

Internet not responding.

Try again.

Same thing.

Change wireless connections. Nada.

Hard wire.

It just spins.

My hands are tied. Everything I need access to is on the web.  Can’t look at student work, it’s on the blog. No reading blogs, writing, tweeting.  Serious irritation.

A year ago, I wouldn’t have even known the internet was down. Last year I wasn’t anywhere near twitter or blogs; my kids’ work was on paper, in notebooks..

Social media and technology in the classroom has opened my world and lightened the load of papers I take home. Opportunities and connections are only limited by the amount of sleep I want to deprive myself of.

But when it doesn’t work, how do I work?

I sit back. The phone. Access. (Can you hear my sigh of relief?)

My teaching partner walks in to tell me the office just put the service call in.  He laughs at me. Just yesterday he came in I had an iPad in one hand, phone in the other.

My after school students are reading, taking this all in.  One looks up from her book and says, “What’s the problem Mrs. Harmatz you were born before the internet, you should be fine.” She laughs. “We’re the ones who are suppose to be all into the internet we’re fine just reading books.”

So wise. I love these kids. They are readers of books with pages made of paper and ink. They are happy just to have space, quiet and time with magazines and books surrounding them.

Old school I think. I open up a document on Microsoft word and start to type.

4:30 rolls around, TCRWP chat time PST. I pull out the  phone and introduce myself. The tweet goes through. I see the first question. and then, a spinning wheel — no tweets loaded.

Really? You’ve got to be kidding me, I say out loud.

My students laugh at me.

I wait. Keep trying other ways. I walk outside, thinking maybe it’s the room. It’s got to come back, I think.

“Ha!  Look at Mrs. Harmatz trying to get reception.”

5:00. Still nothing. Ok that’s it. I’m done. “Kids, sorry I gotta go.”

They look at me. I’m embarrassed to tell them the truth. I think they know.  They pick up and say goodbye. I’m a bit guilty but they are the ultimate benefactors, I rationalize.

Out the parking lot, up the street, and into a local strip mall’s parking lot. Check for signal. Yes!

I’m back.


Re reading this slice, I wonder, do I need a social media 12-step program?  I’m probably asking the wrong audience, but perhaps there is a balance. Anyone?

Slice of Life Day 26: It’s School, What Do You Expect?

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hDuring the month of March I am blogging daily with others in the Slice of Life Daily Challenge. Thank you  TaraAnnaDanaStacey,  Betsy  and Beth at Two Writing Teachers for providing and supporting this place to learn and grow. You can read more slices here.

Yesterday my students tried out the practice Smarter Balanced test for ELA. Today they continued working with partners. Discoveries were made.

Hands were raised, questions asked.

How do you do this? (asked when looking at an empty box where the multiple choice answers use to be)

Oh, I have to write it

I can’t highlight this. Is there a tool to highlight?.

How ‘s it going?

I wrote  my  thinking as I read. It helps when you go back to find evidence, you know where to look..

Sketching helps.

Planning your writing helps you figure out what you want to say.

Working with a partner helps me understand. Two brains working together is more powerful.

All of these comments could have been made during any other kind of reading or writing work.

After about a half hour we stopped and did a mini debate on whether testing stinks or is awesome.  I was surprised anyone stood on the it’s awesome side. Some started out in the middle. By the end, the girls were firmly on the it’s awesome side and the boys on the it stinks side. This division of boys versus girls is not typical with other issues. It usually is evenly distributed by gender. In this case it was striking and they commented on it.

It’s awesome                                                                                                                   It stinks.

You get to use iPads.

You could do other things, like blogging.

You get to write.

You can write  in other ways.

You get to show what you know.

It’s a test!

This is school what do you expect?!


The girls seemed to be looking to show their knowledge. The boys were clearly on the more inventive, non-conformist side of the room or as one girl said, the lazy side. The “what do you expect, it’s school” comment made everyone laugh. It was funny, but it also kind of stung when I thought about it..

So much effort goes into creating a safe place to question, to explore.  We look to  engage, to teach the love of reading,  writing, learning, thinking and all the joys that go with it. But in the end, is it just a test?  Do the student comments surprise you? Gender issues?

It’s school. What do you expect?







Slice of Life Day 25: Testing…Hmm Imagine If…


During the month of March I am blogging daily with others in the Slice of Life Daily Challenge. Thank you  TaraAnnaDana, Stacey,   Betsy  and Beth at Two Writing Teachers for providing and supporting this place to learn and grow. You can read more slices here.


California has given schools this year to gear up for the Core, so our actual, it-counts-test, starts next year. This year we take a practice test. The pressure was lifted. Teachers got to teach all year to the standards without thinking of test prep.

Last week our school received a set of tablets and a portable wifi system. Our students, class by class will take turns taking a part of the test.

Monday I pulled out our iPads and partnered up like readers. I was admittedly resentful of the time taken away from other pursuits but they had to know what they would be facing.  They sat down side by side and started the ELA practice test. With iPads for half the classroom, we do a lot of partner work, so they were used to sitting working together on one iPad and thinking. My goal was to get them used to navigating the tools and the structure of the test.

Up until today, I have not done one test passage, nor spent one minute on strategies for testing. I have spent all of our time together growing ways to access their critical thinking skills in reading and writing. They are all not at grade level no matter how you assess them — some are above, some are below.  They are all growing as readers and writers, but at their own rate. With all this in mind, I was worried about their reaction to this test. Would they freak out, be overwhelmed, give up? Would they be able to negotiate the technology?

Today I saw my students sit side by side completely engaged in the task. They wanted to know what they would be facing. They read side by side, taking notes. When they got to the questions, they debated their choices. I heard things like, “no this has to prove that, see it says… look at this part…” and “no it says right here paragraph-s, that means more than one” and “I think we should flag this one and come back to it because I’m not sure” and “look the timer says we’re on track.” (I didn’t even know there was a timer!)

What made me happy (if you can imagine happy  and test prep going together) was that they were not overwhelmed. The troubles and the strengths I see in these students every day were there, but they were doing their best. They did not give up.

They were calm, focused, and using strategies as naturally as breathing.  One student said, “wouldn’t it be great if we could do this with partners in the real test?”

I thought that isn’t such a bad idea. What my students were doing was reading, discussing possible answers, analyzing their thinking, coming to agreement, justifying their responses. Like readers were working together so no one dominated the answers. They were working it out, thinking it through. They were doing Common Core work. All weren’t at the same level in their thinking that was clear, so if students were to work together like this … I know this is crazy talk but what if…

I am proud of them. They are hard working, can do students. If we could take this “low-stakes” approach to the “real” test it wouldn’t be so bad. Call me crazy.

Slice of Life Day 24: Read Aloud Today and Yesterday


The month of March I am blogging daily with others at Two Writing Teachers. You can read more slices here.


Read aloud is one of my favorite parts of my teaching life. It’s a time when my students rush to the carpet. When they beg for more when we have to stop. When I get to discover things alongside them.

I wonder what they will remember when they are my age — about this fifth grade year. Will they remember the books we read or perhaps the feeling they have when we read?

Thinking back to my fifth grade year I remember I loved my teacher. She was blond and I thought she really liked me.

My desk was a perfect hideaway. I shared it with no one. I could lift up the top to find all of my things hiding inside. My chair was attached to my desk and was in the back of the class, middle row. The boy who sat directly in front of me always had perfectly sharpened Ticonderoga pencils that were about three inches long. The erasers were always perfect. I imagined he made no mistakes.

I remember the state report I wrote on Mississippi and the report on Abraham Lincoln. I remember seeing my beautiful teacher at a store and thinking how embarrassing that was.

But what I remember most of all about fifth grade was read aloud after lunch.

Our read aloud wasn’t the interactive sort, where you participate and the teacher shows you how they think as they read. It wasn’t the kind where you turned and talked (we didn’t talk) or jot in a notebook. I’m sure I had no clue as to what a “jot” about reading was. Read aloud for us was probably meant to get us to relax and cool off after running around at lunch recess.  I doubt it was meant to be “purposeful”.  I remember many times when I would put my face down on the cool surface of my desk and drift off to the words that swirled around me. Read aloud was a time to get lost in story. The book choices I don’t remember, except for one: Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer.

It was Christmas time. I was at the moment when you start to question a little bit because it doesn’t quite make sense. I had suspicions of the truth, but I ignored them because I wasn’t ready to let go.

That December day I was sitting in the back of the room, listening to Rudolf. The story put me in that comfortable place of believing. Day dreaming, I opened up my desk lid and found my crayon box. I sat there with the lid tilted up covering my face. I pulled out a red crayon.  I set the lid down and placed my crayon on that indentation at the top of the desk that keeps your pencil from rolling down. I stretched my arms forward toward the red crayon and put my head down, listening to the story of Rudolf, an underdog who become the hero. Somehow my red crayon found its way into my hand, and I drew with my red crayon, on my nose. Yes I was Rudolf.  I don’t remember being embarrassed or anyone making fun. But I do remember realizing what I was doing in the midst of it. Perhaps my teacher saw and made it so I wasn’t embarrassed. I don’t remember.

What I do remember is the feeling of read aloud. It was a very good thing.

If my students remember anything from fifth grade when they are my age, I hope they remember the feeling of read aloud and that it was a very good thing.

Thank you  TaraAnnaDanaStacey,  Betsy  and Beth at Two Writing Teachers for providing and supporting this place to learn and grow.

Slice of Life Day 23: A Milestone Post of Reflection and Gratitude

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hThis post marks a milestone: my 100th.

I knew it would happen during the Slice of Life March Challenge. I mentally marked it on my calendar. Today’s slice is a reflection on my beginning and a note of gratitude for all that has transpired since.

First a reflection on the past. I went back and read my first post. So much is still true.  So I played around with it (thanks Dana  for giving me a model) and got this:

Sit down to a blank page
I think.
I write
for all to see.
That’s scary
someone might read it.
What if
it’s awful?
Freaked out by hitting publish.

Learning by doing.
manageable bins.

Fear is quieted by
inspirational colleagues,
desire to make a difference,
sort out the mayhem.

Writing leads to the need
to write more.

Messy state of mind,
the purpose,
that jump,
a profound
effect on

Daily behaviors:
the good and not so good is my assignment.
Stay tuned.

Second a note of gratitude.  The monumental support and feedback I received has been overwhelming. Comments have touched my heart, given me next steps, and made me feel I belonged. Had I not gotten this, I don’t think I would have continued.

The majority of my posts (40%) have been shared in the Slice of Life community. You have help me grow my writing life and have taught me what it takes to write daily. What one needs to do this work and want to do more. I got this, not from a workshop or book, that’s different.  I got this from being a part of a writing community.

It’s made me realize what I need to change in my classroom. Daily writing needs immediate support and feedback. I knew this, but not “in-my-heart” know it. We have a class blog, posts and comments happen, but it doesn’t happen with fidelity. That’s the change I need to make if I want my students to feel they are writers outside units of study.

Words of thanks seem insufficient, but I’ll say this anyway: thank you  TaraAnnaDanaStacey,  Betsy  and Beth at Two Writing Teachers for providing and supporting this place to learn and grow. I believe this work has reach. It goes far beyond our blogging community into each of our lives as learners, writers, and teachers.