A Culmination of Celebrations

celebrate link upSo many of my weekly celebrations are about my students, and as the year winds down I have this little black cloud lingering above me.  I’m anticipating a loss: the loss of a little community of students. Next week they culminate, and go on to middle school.

Perhaps this is why the celebratory luncheons, awards banquets,  and year-end festivities make me a little cranky. Everyone seems to be throwing a party and i’m kind of irritated, almost grinchy.

It is so interesting how we deal with change. I asked my students to play the it’s awesome, it stinks game with the idea of leaving elementary school. When students play this game, they position themselves in the room on the side the believe in and they state their claim with their reason attached. I did this with two classes. In one class, the majority were on the side that believes leaving elementary school is awesome. The other class had the majority in the middle, they saw both sides of the issue, it is awesome, but it also stinks.

During their five-minute debate reasons that supported the “it is awesome to leave elementary school” side included middle school vending machines, electives, sports, and the prospect of new friends. On the  “it stinks to leave elementary school” side were the reasons of loosing friends, loosing teacher relationships, and leaving memories behind. After voicing their opinions and reasons, students sat down and wrote argument essays. This was an issue they were passionate about. No one had a problem getting started.

Their thoughts were fascinating. Each piece revealed a little bit about how they saw themselves in the world.

For some it was a fresh start. They saw this as an opportunity to change up what has gone before. It makes me think of that first day of school, new notebook feeling. Some seemed ready for the adventure. Just the idea of new and different was an exciting thing. Many were ready to leave the safety of their elementary school for new challenges, new ideas and new people.

But for some, it was as one student wrote “a bittersweet time.” To leave all they had loved for so many years just hurt. For these students, a very important part of their being was wrapped up in their elementary school. The thought of leaving it was just sad. These students don’t want to go. Interestingly, behavior for some has been a little off. They just aren’t themselves. I get that. I’m feeling, a little off too.

I’ve watched over a decade of fifth graders leave our school. Of course I celebrate their growth. They are ready to fly, to take the next step. But I mourn just a bit. I mourn the loss of their childhood, because after elementary school it seems to speeds up. They hurtle toward adult-like influences, leaving the game-playing behind. This is partly why all of the celebrations and award giving make me a little out of sorts.

The other part that is throwing me off is simple. It is hard to let go. After 180 days, all of those little souls become a part of you.  I’ve celebrated their wins, their ahas, their little steps toward a goal. And I’ve tried to help them see how they can accomplish things they haven’t gotten to yet.  Perhaps that last part is what makes letting go difficult.

Next week, I will celebrate their culmination day. It is a big accomplishment. A culmination of many little wins, and daily celebrations. Today I celebrate all of their little steps along the last six years of their school life. I celebrate their parents, their many teachers and them.



Slice of Life: Sorting Through Things

It’s Tuesday. Time for Slice of Life writing with Two Writing Teachers. Thank you  Tara Anna Dana Stacey,   Betsy  and Beth for providing this space for our writing.  Join us every Tuesday to read or write a slice. You can find more  here. 


“I wouldn’t let my kid live in Isla Vista,” my husband said when I walked in the kitchen Sunday morning.

This statement  weirdly transported me back to my parents’ worries.

My alma mater, UC Santa Barbara, was in the headlines. That’s where I lived I told him. That’s where all students live.

Two of our children are at sister campuses, three weeks out from their finals. They are  living in communities just like Isla Vista, with students just like the ones at UCSB.


Looking for a problem to solve, my husband went off to shop for bookshelves.

Early in the day he had constructed and filled a bookshelf from Target. This worked for the corner of one son’s bedroom, but there were still stacks of books and the thought of more of these white leaning towers wasn’t pleasing. The next thing I know we were traveling to Memorial Day sales.

After a few stops, we wandered into Pottery Barn. It felt like the MoMA gift shop: very modern, clean and gave me the intense urge to buy things I had no use for. The cabinet that opened up to become a bar was fascinating. I loved it. When I showed this wonder to my husband he gave me a you-will-never-use-this look. To which I responded with, “I know. I just thought it was so neat, look at how it folds up!” The fact that he thought I wanted to buy it still makes me smile.

Upstairs we found  two “real” book shelves made of solid wood. While these will help, I know there are still many corners to stack books; where bookshelves will eventually tower.


Organizing our ever expanding book collection is a good problem.  Helping our children find their way in the world is frightening, but something we want to do.  We try to help them figure it out, sort through the confusing parts and make sense of it. We send them off with our fingers crossed.

My heart aches for those families affected by the events at UC Santa Barbara and for all of us who send our beloveds out into the unknown.  When it isn’t ours that are hurt, we breathe a sigh of relief, pull them close, say a prayer and send them out again. And we are thankful for those problems we can solve like bookshelves.


Celebration: My Students, My Girl and A Long Weekend

celebrate link upEvery week Ruth Ayres invites bloggers to celebrate their week.  I love this ritual. Thank you Ruth for the opportunity to share. Read more celebration posts here.

Today I’m celebrating my students who hosted a school-wide Colonial Fair. Here are some of the Friday reflections they posted on their blog.

The colonial fair was pretty cool because we were acting characters from 290 years ago. It was sort of a celebration from the past.

My favorite part at the colonial fair was the One Room School House  because  they would tell you about manners and the correct way to eat and if you come to school dirty you would get whipped. 

Some of the 5th graders had to be a tour guides for 2 sessions, even though it was hard to take care of second graders and third graders while suffering of feet pain and hunger. 

The two kindergarteners I was responsible for were so calm and nice… one of the two kindergarteners hugged me. They got so many things I had to hold the stuff. It was hard to hold their hands with all the stuff in my hands, but I managed to do both .

It was super easy to take care of the kindergarteners because they were quiet and very interested in what the fifth graders in the booths had to say. They had fun and laughed. It made me feel good about helping them get around the fair.

I feel like just because I got tired does not mean that I did not have fun. I think that this was the best Colonial fair ever because the kids really got to learn and so did I.

I enjoyed the colonial fair and I really liked taking the kids around it made me think that I was an actual grown up chaperone. I felt glad to show kids how colonial times were like and how I got to teach about farming back then.

I saw the kids having a lot of fun because we had props and games that the kids could use to make learning fun, so it wouldn’t  just be us talking. Another reason working at the booth was fun was that you could see the smiles on the kids faces and how the Colonial Fair was a big experience for them.

Just feeling that you’re teaching something so cool and new to somebody else is amazing!!!! All the kids listened and did what they were supposed to do, even though there were some trouble. I liked teaching the little kids since they were so cute!!! I even learned things I didn’t know before while tour guiding.

Today I’m celebrating student blogging. On Wednesday, one of my students told me, “I’m posting my 100th post!” I was a little ashamed because I had no idea she had that many posts. (I just got to my 100th post in March!) In total, two classes of 5th graders have posted 960 posts and 2,019 comments. Feel free to check out their interesting thoughts here and here.

Today I’m celebrating my daughter. On Monday she found out that she would miss two days of classes due to school swim meets.  Because of block scheduling two days is like four and right before finals. She’s worked hard for her grades and was concerned. She said,”Don’t they realize I’m a student athlete. The student comes first.” I’m proud of her and she’s right.

Yesterday, she swam two individual events (500 free and 100 butterfly) and two relays in the dIstrict’s CIF finals. She had knee reconstruction surgery on December 31st.  This makes me worry. When I met her afterward she was icing the knee but happy with her performance. I asked her about the knee. She calmly stated,  “It’s ok, this is a part of it. I just don’t tell you because you’ll look like that.” I’m  proud, and she’s right again.

Today I am celebrating a gray morning.  This weather, the beginnings of “June gloom,” is a comfort.  It gives permission to stay in and slow down.  All parts of me need a fog-filled Saturday: to sleep in, to read, to put on warm sweats and put my feel up.

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Happy Memorial Day weekend!

On Being a Teacher

Today my students rocked.  They have spent the last three weeks preparing for a traditional event – our school wide Colonial Faire. These fine fifth graders ran the fair from 8:50 to 2:35 with only breaks for recess and lunch.

They took on the roles of people in early Colonial America.

They taught children from 5 to 9 years of age.They learned how to manage children moving them from one place to the next.

The adjusted their teaching based on the children they had to teach.

Some of great lessons and comments came out of our meetings after the sessions.

When talking about how difficult it was to manage children, one said, “Don’t be afraid to be strict with them.”

And another shocked student commented, “I couldn’t believe a kid ran away from me.”

And more wise words, “If they don’t listen tell them to sit next to you on the ground.”

But one said, “My kids were good they did whatever I asked them to do.”

And some thought they had the cutest kids. “They hugged me afterward.”

I sit here at my computer writing. My feet hurt, but my heart is full. I am amazed at what students can do. When we give them a little guidance and have high expectations.

This year my fifth grade students showed learning, responsibility, maturity, independence, and compassion.

I am so proud. My students are ready to leave this school, to move on to middle school. I am honored to have the opportunity to spend an entire school year with these young people.

Being a fifth grade teacher simply rocks.

Slice of Life: Play in the Classroom the Best Kind of Learning

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hEvery Tuesday, Two Writing Teachers blog hosts a place for writers to share a slice of life.  Join in as a contributor or just read slices. You can find more  here. Thank you TaraAnnaDanaStacey,  Betsy  and Beth for providing this space for our writing.

For the past two weeks,  my students dress up and play every day after school. They pull out clothes from our colonial costume closet: vests, blousy shirts, mop caps, aprons, and jackets. They pull out the props: plates, tin cups, brass candle sticks and set the table in the back of the classroom.

J. who traditional plays Benjamin Rush, sets up a silversmith’s workshop for Paul Revere always played by T.  It’s V’s turn to be the redcoat so she grabs the wooden stick shaped like a musket, a red jacket, and steps outside. S. pulls on a mop cap and skirt over her jeans and M. tries out her  British accent. K. pulls out the iPad and shouts action.

The play ensues. Betsy Ross joins Dr. Rush at the table and comments on the abundance of corn in her diet. She’s really quite sick of it. (Imagine a British accent here.)   Deborah Sampson limps in and tells of her recent battle wounds. Dr. Rush’s good fried Paul Revere  joins them and talks of his desire to join the militia. All of a sudden, there is a loud knock on the door.  A redcoat bursts into the “dining room” and the colonial heroes scatter for cover.

I sit at my desk,  working  (notice the Two Writing Teachers post I’m reading – ha!) and watching my students internalize history. As far as they are concerned this is pure play. Dress up simply rocks.

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All of this “play” is the culmination of analyzing videos and primary documents; reading and writing informational text; field trips, group work, and lots of costumes and props. They just do it for the fun of it and to practice for our school-wide journey back to colonial days on Thursday.

Fifth graders are in charge of learning on that day and they are nervous. Afraid the kindergarteners won’t listen. Worried that the fourth graders will give them attitude.

I just say how impressed I am with them and how they will be great. Just teach one thing I tell them.

Not so far from what I often tell myself as I face a daunting lesson. Just one thing.

So they play dress up.  They say “lad” and “lass.” They curtsy and bow and talk about the cost of tea.

Five pm and parents pick up kids.

I pick up the costumes, the props, and put away the iPad for tomorrow.

Here’s to  the power of play.

Celebrating Growth: The YES and the STARTING TO

Today I’m celebrating the growth I see in my students. We have only a few weeks left together and it seems to be culminating in a beautiful way.

Every year at this time, we focus on Colonial America. Stidents have visited a colonial village  and witnessed reenactments, watched videos, read, talked and researched a specific area of interest.  This is all in preparation for next week, when our 5th grade students take our school back in time to colonial days. They set up “booths” to teach youngers about life back in time.  I have done this work for the past 11 years, and each year brings different students and a slightly different me to the project. This year for the first time, they blogged their learning.

When we started blogging at the beginning of the year, there were lots of bumps. Learning the technology and overcoming problems was how I spent a lot of my conferring time. I worried was it worth it? Was it hurting writing?

Eight months later, I am celebrating students ability to navigate technology and use it as a writing tool.  There are still technology bumps. Students still make mistakes and lose text.  But they have learned  how to fix, how to recover. Students have taught each other how to crop pictures, how to integrate the pictures with the text, and how to insert picture captions. They figured it out and kept writing. Now I confer with students on writing not technology. The last time they did this type of informational writing, every step was a struggle. This time it flew: note taking to research to flash draft to published product on our blog.

This year we started using the Units of Study from TCRWP. I knew they were good, but oh so overwhelming for the students (and me). Understanding the checklists and using mentor text took time. We’d focus on one aspect of the checklist at a time and ignore others. So much of my teaching centered around understanding the mentor text and the checklist. I worried, were they getting it.

Eight months later, I’m celebrating  my students’ capacity to use mentor texts and check lists independently.  When I ask,  how might you use the mentor text to improve your writing? Students know what I mean. When I ask them,  show me how the mentor text has helped you. They can say specifically what they did and what parts of the mentor text helped them.

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Learning takes time. And it takes a bit of belief in the fact that the baby steps we are taking forward, and sometimes backward, will add up to be enough  Along the road we worry: will we make it. Today, I am celebrating. In so many ways, we have made it. Students are have grown in independence as readers and writers. They may not all be at that  spot that says “YES.”  Some may be “STARTING TO” but all have grown along the continuum. All are moving and they all are ready for to take the next step.



Slice of Reading Life: Did I Pass?

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hEvery Tuesday, Two Writing Teachers blog hosts a place for writers to share a slice of life.  Join in as a contributor or just read slices. You can find more  here. Thank you  TaraAnnaDanaStacey,  Betsy  and Beth for providing this space for our writing.

“Did I pass?” he asks.

Hate this question because that’s not the point..

Then he asks, “What’s my level?”

This question sets my teeth on edge.

I tell him that these assessments don’t really give him an exact  level. And I proceed to “tell” him what they say. And then I stop myself and ask him to tell me what he thought about the assessments.

First I ask about SRI, or Scholastic Reading Inventory that produces a lexile score.

He says, “Well it has short text to read but lots of questions. So I answer more questions wit SRI.”

I ask, “How does that compare to Running Records?”

He says, “Running Records is only one passage and fewer questions.”

“Say more about that.”

He says, “Well SRI has lots of questions, but each question gives you possible answers. So you know one is right. It’s kind of like a hint. Running Records you have to answer fewer questions, but there isn’t any hint.”

“How does Running Records compare to the IRA?” (Independent Reading Assessment from Jennifer Serravallo). “When you read The Great Gilly Hopkins, with the post its in it?”

“In someways that one is easier than Running Records because you have  a whole book to get it. With Running Records you just have a short amount of text so your really have to get everything you can out of it.”

“Umm,” I say. (and I think, very true).  “So why do you suppose the score on your Running Records is higher than the one on the IRA?”

After thinking a bit he says, “Some of the questions in the book I didn’t understand.  So that’s probably why. The Running Record didn’t ask me those kinds of questions. So I guess the type of question matters.”

“What does this tell you about you as a reader?”

He says, “I guess there are some parts of books I don’t get.  I need to work on that.”

We go on to talk about the book he is reading with his group.

He responds, “I don’t really get it.”

He opens to page one and reads the first sentence from Ungifted by Gordon Korman:

I want a refund from ancestory.com.

I ask him, “What do you know and what do you wonder about?”  (Thank you to What Readers Really Do)

He says, “I don’t get it.”

This is said in a monotone, why-don’t-YOU-get-what-I-just-said manner. He clearly wants to abandon this book. While I’m fine with abandoning books that don’t fit readers, I wonder if with a little work in the beginning, the door to understanding might be opened up.

I say, “What  parts  of this sentence do you know and what parts do you wonder about?”

He says, “I know refund but I wonder about ancestory.com. I don’t get that part, it doesn’t make sense.”

I say, “So what if you read on with that wonder in mind  and look for answers to that.”

With a sigh, he goes on and eventually “got it.”

I ask, “So what did you learn about yourself as a reader?”

He says, “When I don’t get something I have to kind of break it apart, stop and figure out what I don’t get. Then look for the answer.”

Reading is complicated and assessment tells us many things. It points us towards what might be the problem, the weakness, and what might be needed. But every book, every text, every assessment requires something slightly different from the reader. Bottom line readers need to be flexible in their thinking and strategies they use to understand.

This ten minute conference started with did I pass? In the end I don’t think he found out the answer to that question. Hopefully he walked away with more than what he was asking for.

Celebrating Poetry and the Power of Read Aloud

I’m celebrating the week with Ruth Ayres and friends. I love this weekly ritual that looks to find those moments every week to hold up, savor and celebrate. Thank you Ruth for orchestrating this. Read more celebration link ups here.

 celebrate link up

 Notebooks are full of poems and are being published in REAL books with hard covers and paper pages, 28 of them.  Publishing on the blog is still happening, but a book is something that can you can put on the shelf.  It’s something that will be there over time.

Students looked at what they had developed in their writing notebooks. They listed out all of their poems and tried to find what ideas seemed to repeat. What kept coming up, again and again. What were they trying to tell the world.  How did they connect.  How could they group them or sequence them to create a collection. Who is their audience.  Themes were found around friendship, sports, school or simply pet love. One student said

My book is full of my imagination and it moves this way and that way because that’s what my mind does. This is me.

Clutching their mentor poetry books, students planned their layout: sections, a title page, table of contents, dedication and about the author pages. Once planned they got a white bare book and took off with “old school” creation tools:  pencils, erasers and notebooks that allow room for more development. Some are confident in their artistic abilities, others who say “I don’t draw good” need some coaching. Some script is big and bold, others small and curvy,  but all are asking each other, “Can you read this?” and “how do you spell…” The novelty of this publishing tool seems to have focused their thinking around things that usually don’t get their attention:  presentation and how the reader would read their work. This is an outcome I didn’t expect. Perhaps it is the mentor books that has inspired this focus; perhaps it is the real book publishing environment; perhaps it is a combination.  Whatever the reason, passion for poetry is high. They want their words on the page to reflect and  highlight what their imagination sees. Here’s to celebrating creating books of poetry.





We started A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd this week. With only four weeks left and lots of activities planned, I’m worried that we will have enough time. We will make time because I want the magic of read aloud to fill our classroom one more time before they go off to middle school.



This reminds me of Winn Dixie.

The mom is like Opal’s dad.

The sadness.

The lozenges , remember the sadness.

Yeah it was a symbol.

What could be a symbol here? Ice cream?

Felicity talks like Opal.

She’s a country girl like Opal.

She’s a poet like Ivan.

She sees words like Melody saw colors in Out of My Mind.

She has magic.

Words are magic.


Oh my.  I didn’t expect these connections. I didn’t hint at them. I didn’t make them.  Students were bursting with ideas. They are full of wonders and connecting ideas to texts. They are wondering about symbolism in chapter two! They are aware of the possibility and are on the look out for it. They know this is how books go. And they may revise their thinking, because that is what readers really do.

We read Out of My Mind and The One and Only Ivan this year, but these students read Because of Winn Dixie  two years ago. This speaks not only to the beauty and power of the book, but to the interactive read aloud teaching that went into it. This classroom, full of English language learners, remembers the shell the preacher was in, the litmus lozenges, the sadness and they are actively accessing it, two years later. This is a room of thinkers, of readers. They are doing this because real literature was read, thought about, and experienced throughout their elementary school years.

Today I celebrate amazing literature, the power of interactive read aloud across all grade levels, and my students who teach me so much.



Slice of Testing Life

Every Tuesday, Two Writing Teachers blog hosts a place to post a slice of life . Join in as a contributor or just read more slices  here. Thank you  TaraAnnaDanaStacey,  Betsy  and Beth for providing this space for our writing.

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hToday was one of those days. I had so much I wanted to do, planned to do. But, the expected unexpected happened.

I got to class early.

Got vocabulary ready.

The iPads were charged for students to take pictures of their favorite spots on the playground (thank you Tara for this inspiration).

I started to work out the sequence of the day on the board, when an administrator walked in. Now I love this administrator. She is the sweetest person, but she is the bearer of testing news. I saw her and I knew. I gave her a dirty look. I’m sure my tone was surly. That was extremely wrong of me, and I think I apologized. I just couldn’t help it. When I saw her, I knew the day I had planned was doomed..

You might be thinking right now, Why was this a surprise?

Let me explain my seemingly out of touch behavior. We have 70 iPads to conduct testing among approximately 360 students. Because of this. we take turns and we sort of guess  at the timing based on where you are in line and how much time you think the classes before you might take. Crazy? Yes. So when I was planning the week, I decided to simply not worry because I couldn’t control it.

When this administrator walked in I knew my fate was sealed and there was no getting around it. The test was today, and my dismay showed on my face. My students were destined to a day behind the iPads, reading Smarter Balanced passages, and writing their performance assessment.

My students were tougher than me. They walked in and they did it. They worked hard. Took notes, planned, read and wrote. They made out loud comments, asked questions (that I couldn’t answer), and continued to work hard.

Student: This is hard.

Me: I think, I’m sorry, I know it is. I say, But you are working harder, you’re showing what it takes.

Student: I don’t understand this question.

Me: I think, I can’t help. I say, do your best.

Student:  I am writing an amazing essay.

Me: I say, Wow! I think, what an attitude.

By the end of the day they (we) were spent.

After school, kids said they nailed the writing.

I’ll never know how they did because we won’t see the results. It’s a dry run for all involved. Next year counts.

While it’s nice not to worry about scores, I’d like to see what they wrote.  I’m curious. The fact is I’ll never be able to see what they write on these standardized tests, even when it counts. All I’ll see is a number. Which makes me sad. I just would like to see what they have to say.

As I watched students tap their screens, enlarge the font, and type madly away, I thought: If it were me, I’d like the reading on paper; something I could mark up and easily flip back and forth. If I was doing this test, I’d like to respond on the computer, but to read, write notes on, and refer back to text on paper.

Reading and writing on the same screen seemed difficult. I wonder if the designers of  the Common Core intended this additional challenge.  I wonder if those who make testing decisions ever  really consider what students have to do. If they put themselves in the students’ seats and took this test on those devices, would they achieve proficiency?


Celebrate: Poetry, Questioning and History!

I’m celebrating the week with Ruth Ayres and friends. I love this weekly ritual that looks to find those moments every week to hold up, savor and celebrate. Thank you Ruth for orchestrating this. Read more celebration link ups here.

celebrate link up

First: We did spine poetry! My kiddos tore my library apart looking for ways to put different combinations together. I celebrate my students enthusiasm and my wonderful library. It is a well used place. An  unexpected outcome of this work was when students found books to take and read!

Can I read this book?

Music to my ears.

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Two: We continued questioning. I blogged about our first steps toward learning to question here. Students took it further this week by talking about open- and closed-ended questions. We talked about the advantages and disadvantages. Students categorized the questions they had, and changed open-ended questions to closed and closed to open.

Some quotes —

Closed-ended questions are quick, easy but they don’t make you think.

Yeah, they aren’t good for common core.

Interesting take aways. The fact that they not only got what they were, but they could see the advantages and disadvantages and manipulated them, blew me away.

Three: Students prioritized questions. They had to choose three and have a “rationale” as to why AND they had to report it to the class. All of this is big stuff. Just the ability to prioritize is big learning. Then to stand up and explain why they choose these three was a big challenge for those who would rather not stand up and talk. Every bit of what they did was fascinating. From the questions they choose, to how they chose to report it to the group. Their rationale for choosing the questions included things like:


We think this could change this.

We want to know more

Four and a lot more: We took a field trip to Riley’s Farm, a working farm and at times a colonial village. It was a two and a half hour drive, by bus in 95 degree heat, BUT that didn’t matter. Students were so engaged in life during colonial times. The actors took them back in time to the 18th century.

They wove,

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 paid the Stamp Tax,

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witnessed battles.

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and learned manners.

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It was worth every minute of the drive!

Happy weekend!