Slice of Life: What Matters…

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hIt’s late Monday night and I really don’t have the time to write. But… Tuesday is means Slice of Life and I hate to miss that. Thank you Two Writing Teachers for being there and making me write when I wouldn’t. It is a good thing. Join in. Read, comment, add your own. Become a part of this community who writes even when we don’t have the time.

School is becoming a reality and it’s not the students that are causing me anxiety, it’s everything else.

There is this new computerized districtwide grading and attendance system. Which one of those words doesn’t make you want to break out in a cold sweat? I’m trying to ignore this, or at least set it aside for now. But, I  had to face IT today.

I wanted to do a what I thought was a simple thing, something I do every year — send my incoming students a letter. This wasn’t small or simple because of the new computerized districtwide grading and attendance system.(Hear an echo?) Our poor office staff, who are angels,.helped me through the process of sending a computerized message and email to these select students. Then there is the other thing — we are in the process of looking for a new principal. Then there is the new WiFi — not sure of the access code yet.  But wait. Stop. Breathe.

What matters? Sixty humans that will soon become two ecosystems –whose lives and futures will intertwine with mine. They have already started to work their way into my heart as I set up the classroom to support their next steps.

What matters

a safe place

voices valued and heard.

What matters


for the expected

and unexpected.

Who knows what I might hear.






Celebrate: Being Nerdy

It is time to celebrate the week with Ruth Ayers on her blog. Thank you Ruth, for inspiring this weekly practice, that acknowledges the big and little things that are worth celebrating.
celebrate link up

This week I celebrate being nerdy.

I’ve been working on things for school, at home. I never really stop thinking about school stuff, but the thought process is a little more reflective and relaxed in the summer. Once I set foot in the classroom, I’m back in school mode, so I have avoided my classroom. .

I’ve been working on a classroom website I’d started at the end of last year. I was intimidated, but the tools turned out to be really easy to use and fun to play with. I sat at the dinning room table, next to my oldest who was busily typing up something.  Looking over at him, I decided to ask him if he wouldn’t mind reading through the site. I knew what I was in for. He’s a kid who discusses the nuances of words and has to explain his reasoning for every editing choice.  I decided this would be a good thing for me and my site — to have the benefit of a very critical eye.

He takes my computer, and I sit, a little nervous.

“Mom I think this paragraph should go first because it gives the purpose of the page.Then it flows into the next one with the actual nuts and bolts of what this means..”

“This edit… I can’t really explain why I like it this way, I just do.”

“This is really great. I love this part.”

“Could we change this word to …”

“Ok, let me read it one last time.”  He starts from the beginning, reading it aloud, with expression. Some more edits. Then re reads again. He must have read three more times. We talked, discussed my reasoning. Considered ideas. Sometimes I went with his idea. Sometimes I defended mine. The nerdy thing about this was that we had such a good time doing it.

“Thanks so much for helping me with this,” I said.

“Oh, I knew what I was getting into,” he responds, “this is what I do.”

We continued on for another hour. It was getting late, past noon. I had promised myself to go in to school to start on the library. I was close to publishing the website, but not quite.

“Why don’t you just finish it, and then go in tomorrow,” he says.

That was all I needed. I was having way too much fun fiddling around with words and pictures.

By dinnertime I published it. Check it out. Hopefully parents and kids will use it, and I’ll keep it up to date.

Flash forward to the next day. My room is calling, and my book-loving son agrees to come with me to help.

I have this shelf, actually three shelves, that have become the home for all books that I don’t know what to do with. The ones that I’ll deal with, later.  I decide later is now and my son can deal with them. “Just sort them by genre,” I tell him. “Use the tables.”

He gets music going and starts in.

“Oh l Poppy, I loved this book.” Time passes. He holds up the Walter Dean Myers biography of Muhammed Ali. “This was a great book.”

“I remember when you read that. Did you know Myers died in June?” I say..

“No!  Man!  First  Maya Angelou and now Walter Dean Myers.”

“It’s kind of unbelievable.”

Sorting continues. “This is the girls-who-love-animals pile, and this is the I’m-having-a-terrible-summer-but-I-find-a-true-friend pile.”

I laugh. He is micro categorizing by theme and topic. (What a great activity for students!) He remembers books. When he read them, the parts he loved, or why he didn’t care for certain ones. He stays for about three hours then takes off to spend time with a friend.

Flash forward to the evening. I’m sitting at home and he walks in. “I got the job at the library!”

“Well they would have been crazy not to hire you,” I tell him.

“Yeah, I suppose.”

Today I celebrate my nerdy book-loving son who believes re reading books is the best part because, “How else are you going to remember the best quotes.”



#cyberPD: Reading in the Wild (3 week of 3)

Skitch-2012-06-10 11_22_09 +0000This post is the last of the summer #cyberPD  series on Donalyn Miller’s Reading in the Wild. This is my second read of this book and the first one as a group. My experience has proven re-reading is essential for understanding and reading with others provides a third read. Thanks to Michelle Nero of Literacy Learning Zone for hosting today’s thoughts.

At the end of the book this quote struck me as a clear mission statement:

By the end of the school year, our students have practiced all of the lifelong reading habits in our classrooms, they have reflected on their personal reading behaviors, and they have developed the tools and skills they need to become independent readers without our support. (Kindle Locations 3401-3403 emphasis added).

As I think about my students to be, my planning revolves around this idea– creating lifelong reading habits through practice, reflection and skill development.


Chapter five is all about reading preferences and how student and teacher understanding of preference is crucial for growing wild, independent readers.

Like so many kids in our classes, I used to love science fiction and fantasy.  But it changed. Now, as other wild adult readers I gravitate toward historical and realistic fiction. Perhaps the young are seeking the future, the fantastic, because they are at a place where all things are possible. Whatever the reason, it is important to acknowledge this difference between adult and child preference and be mindful of it when we are recommending books or choosing read alouds. What we love, they might not! 

Understanding genre leads to independence in reading.  This is an aha for me.  In the past, surveys about preference in my classroom have garnered responses like funny books, scary books, dog books, or at best, mystery. Most of my students will mention former read alouds as favorites. This is telling.  Reading through this chapter mades me acutely aware of the need to develop students’ understanding of genre as a step toward understanding what they seek in a book. The ability to articulate a preference through genre is a skill and will move them closer to becoming independent readers. They aren’t there YET, but this clearly needs to be a goal.

Genre requirements –– I have never done had genre requirements in my classroom, and I think it’s time. Grow my students’ ability to know what they like is extremely important. The choice of a book should not be a stumbling block to reading. Based on the units of study I’m teaching, my library and the emphasis on the informational text of the common core, I’ve adjusted Donalyn’s minimums slightly.  The minimum requirements will be 4 books from  realistic fiction, fantasy, and historical fiction genres;  2 books each from  biography, poetry and graphic novel genres; 12 books for informational; and 10 books for choice.  It may get sticky, but at the very least they will be aware of what they are choosing.

Students need to keep track of their reading as a means of reflection.  I’d love to have information on where, when and how much students read outside of class, but the daily reading log  hasn’t been an accurate tool. The majority of readers in my classroom either fake, lose, or forget to log in.  BUT I know readers need to keep track of their reading for growth and reflection, so I’m working on a modified versions of status of the class for their notebooks, an itinerary assessment every six weeks,  and cumulative reading log to be maintained at school. My goals would be to get realistic measures of reading without becoming a big take away from reading. In the end my hope would be that students can notice trends and monitor their growth to set volume and genre goals.

Conferring is difficult. Every year I get a little better at it, and every year I re examine how I do it. Most of my students read in partnership or clubs, so when I confer it is often as a strategy group. Students reflections and data collection will enhance my conferring work. Additionally,  I need to monitor engagement more closely. I always know those that are struggling with focus, but I don’t measure their growth very well. Looking at indicators of commitment and book completion in addition to the ability to settle in during reading workshop on an ongoing basis should be a priority.

As an aside, this post marks this blogs one-year anniversary. I had no idea what was “out there” in the blogosphere when I started this.  I thought it would be just me processing my thinking. But thanks to others with like passions (you all) and the organizers of link ups (Michelle Nero, Cathy Mere and Laura Komos), I have found community and professional development. I am so thankful to all who take the time and have the courage to show up and share their thinking.

Looking forward to your posts, comments and the twitter chat, Sunday July 30th at 8 pm EST.


Slice of Life: The Opal School


Time for Slice of Life at Two Writing Teachers. Join us every Tuesday. You will find more links here.

The end of the summer is fast approaching.

I’ve read wonderful books, attended fantastic conferences, and I can’t wait to try it all on for size with students in a few short weeks. My planning brain is starting to kick in, and those always too few minutes of instructional time are already cramping my style.

But before I lose myself in that, I’m going to take a deep breath and dig back into a miraculous Saturday.

There was no traffic. Miracle number 1. Once in city of Pasadena, I found an unattended parking lot right next to my destination. I saw signs about towing, yet couldn’t find the pay meter.  Just when I thought I’d better find another spot to park, a young woman got out of her car and shouted, “It’s free parking on the weekends!” Miracle number 2.   Minutes later, I have a cup of hot coffee and bagel in hand; I sit outside in a beautiful courtyard waiting for the Opal School’s workshop. Nine o’clock, and I walk in to find a lovely display on each table. I want to touch, but I restrain myself.

The 75 minutes that followed was a miraculous montage of story, pictures and children’s work accomplished through the pursuit of play and discovery.

We started out our session with a quiet reflection on our own memories of play. What are the feelings we think of when we remember play. Responses of joy, freedom, creativity, messiness came up around my table. One person said, she was an only child and for her play involved a creation of other worlds.   The creation of roles, rules, and games are all play “moves” and take us to a place of joy.

We then listened as the team from Opal eloquently and precisely named their mission and beliefs. The words below are from my notes and paraphrase their beautiful thinking:

To be in a state of wonder is to be vulnerable. Children are born willing. We can choose to remain by their side because they know we know. But, children are competent meaning makers.  Every individual brain is driven to attach importance to new information. It is about habits of mind and seeking connections. We are wired to connect ideas as much as we are wired to explore. This needs to be nurtured  and we need to learn to listen for engagement; listen in solidarity with children’s struggles. We can arrive at much of this through play. Play is relaxed alertness, the opposite of boredom, the antithesis of specialization and standardization.

By allowing children the opportunity to explore through play with “intelligent” materials, Opal teachers guide children to make connections and find learning. This play is expertly crafted to get children to discover things. Clay, blocks, cardboard, tempera paint, black line pens, wire, and natural materials are used as a part of the writing process, to question and discover ideas and meaning. It is fascinating. While I listened, I’m thinking, where and how could this fit into my student’s lives.

They told the story of using watercolors to explore balance. Three girls embarked on this journey and produced an amazing array of paintings one morning that demonstrated balance in shapes, lines and color. When they presented their work, the class found much more than the girls intended.

After listening to another story about a four-year old conquering his initial beliefs that he could not draw his flower, we were “invited” to “explore” one of the natural materials placed around the table.

I studied my dried seed pod closely, carefully and noticed. Looking to “establish a relationship”  with this object, I found myself diving into the process ignoring those ever-present feelings of artistic incompetence and the artists beside me. Pure and simple, it was a focused, joyful experience.. The process of study made me lose myself in the work. Music played and talk eventually ceased.

2014-07-19 11.02.01

After this, Opal school teachers asked us to comment on any connections we made through the work or concerns we had about the materials.

One woman tentatively asked, how do you connect this to the curriculum.  It did seem rather magical, but it is clearly a result of extensive study, research and crafting of  lessons that are mindful of the possibilities the materials and the process present. Students are offered up the choice, given the time to process, and then guided towards idea and questions that link back to the curricula.

My take away for now is about habits of mind. Noticing, slowing down and processing through materials connected to my thinking about reading and writing. The study of materials allowed me to reach an awareness, a mindset this work cultivates. And while I wouldn’t be able to handle the realities of clay in my classroom, fine point pens, wire, and natural objects are clearly doable for the practice of noticing and processing.

As I get back to the realties of day-to-day planning work, this magical Saturday experience filters into my thinking about supporting readers and writers.

For more information on the Opal School, check out this link. It is worth a little exploration and discovery. See if you can make some connections.

Celebration: The Gift of Learning

Happy late celebration! Thank your Ruth Ayers for your link up where we (you too) can link up and share our week’s celebratory moments.

celebrate link up

I’m late in this posting  because of the gift I gave myself:  a spot at The Whole Language/ NCTE sponsored a conference, located a mere 60 minutes from my house. I need some time to digest all I got from this conference (posts for later this week?) but for now I’ll share a few words and links that highlight some of what I experienced Friday and Saturday.

All sessions I attended were lead by teams of teachers who were passionate about their teaching and their mission with children. All had students at the center of their work. What I share here is no particular order. I hope as you read this you will think of how these little pieces might spark something in your classroom. That’s how I entered this conference and I’m still ruminating on how these ideas will find there way into my teaching world.

First… Social Studies Simulations

The 5th grade team from the Edison School in Elmshurst, Illinois presented their work titled, Building a Bridge: Connecting Language Arts and Social Studies. In their classrooms, students take on the responsibilities and challenges of a colonist. Students read, discuss, debate, write and work through the various issues that colonists had to deal with. This team of teachers have created and curated great resources you can find on their blog, writing2learn.  

Second.. Prezi for Student Work

Technology was present in the form of  Prezi.  My aha was the power of Prezi as an alternative thinking and writing tool for students.  If you aren’t familiar with this, hit the link and give yourself about an hour, no pressure time to play with it. Go though a few tutorials and consider what thinking skills you used when creating. Now imagine your students creating a character web or an research report with this tool. Prezi has low barriers to entry (free, web based),  high engagement possibilities (multimedia), and opportunity for higher level thinking.

Third… Whole School Project Based Learning

The Borton Elementary Magnet School in Tucson, Arizona is committed  to Project Based Learning in grades k-5.  Some essentials for this work included:

  • Significant Content (big and relevant issues)
  • Collaboration
  • In depth inquiry  ( lasting 8-10 weeks)
  • Driving questions
  • Student Need to Know
  • Student Voice and (managed) Choice
  • Revision and Reflection
  • Public Audiences (authentic)

Getting a school to do this as a whole community takes training (they utilize the Buck Institute for Education)  and staff dedication. This team shared student work from all grade levels and talked of their own work to revise and work toward continued growth as a staff.  This panel shows some of the work of their fourth grade’s anti-bullying project.

2014-07-18 12.18.02

 Four.. The Opal School

The Opal School of Portland provided the opening keynote. I had read about this school’s work on Vidki Vinton’s blog and was intrigued by what their approach could bring to my Reading and Writing Workshop. Their presentation was breathtaking and their hands on workshop inspirational. Today, I’m only gong to share a few thoughts…

Listening is not easy. It requires a deep awareness and a suspension of our judgement and prejudice. To do this teachers need to allow for listening by slowing down.

We need to consider questions for our students to ponder, but also for teachers, looking to foster growth in students and in teaching practices. Some questions for teachers:

  • What do I notice
  • What am I wondering about
  • How can I make children’s learning visible
  • How do I know core values and beliefs are being reflected in day-to-day practice

Saturday sessions featured hands on work with Opal School teachers. Here’s a peak at some of the materials and artifacts we got to play with.  More on this later. Too much to process now!

2014-07-19 09.01.15

Each session I attended was filled with enthusiastic teachers as presenters and attendees. The sharing and celebration of knowledge and learning about and for students was inspiring.

Five — Words about Play 

I love quotes but never remember them when I want them. Fortunately there are people like the Opal School and my very literate son who do and share them with me. Here are a few I’d like to share.

Play is not the opposite of work. – Opal

A person’s maturity consists in having found again the seriousness one had as a child, at play. – Nietzche

Play is more than fun, it’s vital. — Stuart Brown

Have a playful weekend



#cyberPD: Reading in the Wild (week 2 of 3)

I found the summer #cyberPD posts last week on Reading in the Wild. These posts added so much to my take on Donalyn Miller’s book. It offered insights above and beyond my initial thoughts. Reading those comments inspired me to reread and join in. Thank’s to Cathy Mere at Reflect and Refine, Laura Komos at Ruminate and Invigorate and Michelle Nero at Literacy Learning Zone for hosting this. 

Skitch-2012-06-10 11_22_09 +0000.Here is the schedule I “lifted “off of Cathy’s blog

To participate:
  • Link in the comments of the host blog
  • Comment on the host blog.
  • Tweet comments using #cyberPD hashtag.
  • ???  (creativity is always welcomed)
I read RIW over Winter Break, loved it and blogged about it here. . We created the graffiti wall, did more book talks and recommendations.
Interestingly, what I thought I understood about wild readers has adjusted since the first read.  I didn’t get the urgency or necessity of nurturing wild readers in the classroom. Now I get wild readers are readers for life, not just kids who can read in my classroom.

Today I offer my current take aways from Chapters 3 and 4.

Chapter 3 :

A reading community in Donalyn’s world is tribal; it’s personal. She talks of bottom lines and asks us to come up with our bottom line. She tells her students, “you are my people.” In other words, I understand you and you understand me. We seek the same.  There is respect for and expectations of the individual and the community in that statement. It says we value each other and each other’s opinions.

If I could just take quote from this book, it would be this one:

As much as I hope to change children’s lives, my relationships with students transform me. I want my students to remember our classroom as a home that they may leave, but it will never leave them. They are forever mine, and I am forever their teacher.

To create this tribe we need to filter reading and its place in our lives through everything we do. It should become as natural and as important as eating. For this upcoming year I’m thinking about doing more:

  • book talks and book commercials
  • social opportunities surrounding books
  • public displays of book love
  • increased access to books and book recommendations
  • money toward books – where we put our money speaks volumes (no pun intended but maybe there is a slogan in there!)

We need to show we value reading with our actions, by being readers, sharing our reading publicly and honoring others who do the same. Reading doors throughout the school would be amazing, but I’m imagining rmore. We currently display student writing.  How wonderful if we could display top reading picks of classrooms alongside our writing.

Chapter 4

Wild readers make plans. This weaves so beautifully into the previous chapter on community. Book recommendations from our community keep us going!  I had no idea how powerful that really was until I started connecting on Twitter.and blogs.  One recommendation leads to another.  Of course you let the person who recommended it know how much you loved it, and the cycle continues. All of a sudden you get caught up in the fever and your stack never diminishes, but neither does your desire to read.

I hadn’t really thought about how important this rather simple idea is. By having that next book, waiting and someone like you who told you’d love it, you are set up, almost obligated, to get to that book. There is no down time! This matters for our students they can’t afford to miss any reading time.

We need to develop a culture in our classrooms of planning, and being on the look out for the next read.

Students must learn how to make their own reading plans, reflect on their individual accomplishments, and find personal reasons for reading or they will never become wild readers.

Explicitly teaching students how to plan and then reflect thoughtfully on what worked and what didn’t work is crucial. This struck me as a powerful way to honor all readers on their path to becoming wild readers. By planing and adjusting our plan based on what we did, we learn from our hits and our misses..

Aim for commitment and challenge in personal reading plans. Goals and personal challenges should be managed for success. Once we meet a goal, we make the challenge a little greater. We should build from strength..The shorter reads at the beginning of the year or with more fragile readers is so smart.  And note to self: More Series Books! These books provide both commitment and challenge as well as familiarity. They take our a lot of that uncertainty and could help us push ourselves to more complex work.

When reading is relegated to the time allotted at or by school, we are settling for less than what kids need.  This type of reading may produce people who can read, but not necessarily people who want to read.

Students who read on an inconsistent basis never develop an attachment for reading. Those who read only at school remain vulnerable if they don’t invest in reading at home.

As a school community or classroom teacher we can’t control what happens at home, but perhaps our stance in how we approach, model and provide reading opportunities in school needs to change. As long as students are reading for school, they will simply do that. If students are setting and reflecting on  their reading challenges throughout the year, summer time slump will not be an issue. They need to leave our classrooms capable and ready to find, read, and find more reading. If they can do that with out our assistance, they are reading for themselves and on the road to becoming wild readers.


Slice of Life: Sunday Night Movies

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hIt’s Tuesday, time for Slice of Life with Two Writing Teachers. Please join us with a slice of your own. Find other slices here. Thank you Tara, Betsy, Dana, Stacey, Beth, and Anna for your wonderful blog.

As a kid, Sunday nights were The Wonderful World of Disney. It offered the last bit of the weekend: a Sunday night movie. I loved them.  Now no one turns into a regularly scheduled broadcast. We go to Netflix.

Sunday night, we sat, just the two of us, flicking through the seemingly endless selection of Netfilx movies and TV shows.

Nope, nope, nope, mindless, violent, seen it.

Flick, flick, flick.

Rinse, repeat.

Seriously there should be something.

We don’t give up. We have faith. So many there has to be one. Just one good story.

Determined, we forge on.

I make dinner. While husband continues the search.

I’m in the kitchen and I hear music.

“Decided on one, have you,” I say.

“Yeah, we’ll see.”

I bring plates filled with pasta and salad. Drinks on coasters, plates on our laps.  I keep my expectations low.

Characters: divorcee (played by Virginia Madsen) three cute daughters, a alcoholic writer (played by Morgan Freeman) next door.  Setting: summer time at an idyllic lake outside of New York City.

It  pulls me in slowly, quietly.

The middle child wants to learn how to tell stories. For “punishment,” mom tells her she must learn three new words. The girl eats this up. (You had me at she wanted to learn to tell stories.) And who does she go to for help, the cranky, but eloquent, slightly drunk neighbor.  Freeman’s voice is mesmerizing. He is amused by her and agrees to teach her to tell stories.

His first lesson: Look for what isn’t there.

Her vocabulary words: bamboozle, mentor and imagination.

Completely hooked. We sit. I find myself smiling.

Toward the end, I started to get choked up. Next to me, I hear sniff, sniff. A hand raised, a tear wiped..

The end, a satisfied sigh and, “Your kids would love this,”

“I was thinking the same thing. What’s the name of this?”

The Magic of Belle Isle.

If you haven’t seen it, do. Maybe next Sunday night.

Celebrate This Week: Beginnings, Volumes and a Milestone

It is Saturday and time to celebrate with Ruth Ayers.  Join us, no invitation needed, every Saturday. Find the link up and other Celebration posts here. This week I celebrate the beginnings of writing, tons of reading and a birthday.

celebrate link up

1. I met up with my two new writing partners, Cathy Skubik and Christine Leishman on Google Hangouts! First off, yay us for making technology work. Secondly yay us for for jumping into this place of uncertainty that is writing. And finally yay Two Writing Teachers for making this possible. I’m looking forward to what lies ahead.

2. I retired my old Mac laptop. It has served me well, never a problem, just an upgrade here or there. But after a week of lugging it around NYC, I decided it was time. Sorry old friend. Now I sit in front of my shiny new MacBook Air — oh so pretty, light and fast. While I celebrate this lovely new thing, I appreciate the many years of service of the old.

3a. I am loving kid lit. First off,  Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff captured me immediately with the main character Albie. He is a heart breaker and all of you lovely teachers out there will immediately think of your own Albies. It has earned a place alongside Wonder and Each Kindness in my Read Aloud line up for next year. A great book to teach kids about what really matters. Thank you Tara for your great review of this book. It made me pick it up!


3b. I am in the midst of Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere by Julie T. Lamana. OH.MY.GOSH. Talk about being swept away. You will just love Armani. This girl stands up for what is right, but has the good sense to keep her mouth shut when she knows it’s not gonna help. That’s what helps her survive as you hold your breath for disaster that you know is coming: Hurricane Katrina. It’s a page turner and a tear jerker. I’m thinking this is historical fiction for ten year olds. What do you think? Thank you Erin, I picked this book up because of you.


4. I read Teaching Interpretation Using Text-Based Evidence to Construct Meaning in two days. This book by Sonja Cherry-Paul and Dana Johansen addresses a difficult thing to teach in an easy to read fashion. The simplicity in presentation is just one part of the brilliance you will find in this text. They have taken a complex thing, interpretation, and broken it down. Sonja and Dana have thoughtfully analyzed the process of how to come up with ideas about text and then test student thinking with evidence. Symbolism and theme, two sticky areas for those literal types in our classrooms, are beautifully addressed. With their teaching in my head, symbols pop up all over the place as I inhale books. Thank you Sonja and Dana. Your book has made me a better reader and will make me a better teacher next year!


5.  And finally  I’m celebrating a milestone of sorts: my middle child’s birthday, 20 years old today. Only one teenager left!


Slice of Life: When Just Opening the Door is Hard

It’s time for Slice of Life with Two Writing Teachers!  Read a few more  or join us with a slice of your own and add it to the comments here11454297503_e27946e4ff_hIt’s summer and time is stretched out.  Teachers are vacationing with family, lazing by the pool. But based on the blogs I read, summertime is also cherished learning time. Some are packing up and taking off for  teaching institutes, spending days away from their families with other passionate learners.  These opportunities give tangible examples of how to teach, but also the experience of being the student. To sit in that chair, to be engaged, to feel times of struggle, to be unsure of your answer, to misunderstand directions, to loose focus.

I certainly had all of these feelings last week at TCRWP’s summer reading institute.  I was energized and engaged. But I had moments when I struggled, when I wasn’t all I wanted to be. I was less than.  I couldn’t help but start to process things through the eyes of struggle.

It was Tuesday morning.  I had planned to run before class, and I knew I had to be out the door running at 6:00 am. This meant I had to get out of bed by 5:45. It was painful.  That morning my “no think, just do it” brain got me out of bed. Sometimes when I struggle, I get through by just doing, without thinking. I trust or believe that things will get better. That it will be worth it, at some point.

I search my purse for the hotel key card. I find my Metro card, my ATM, but no hotel card. I dump my purse’s contents out on the bed. A message pops up on my phone. I check it out. Hit the link. Minutes go by.  I reorganize my purse. More time eaten away. Eventually I find the hotel card, on the bedside table. When I’m fighting with the whole idea of running, getting out the door can be the hardest part. Something, anything can distract me. A phone message, an email, the smell of coffee, a newspaper, something I notice on the way to my keys. All of a sudden time has slipped by and I’m still not running.

Some of you might  applaud my efforts, saying, hey some exercise is better than none. And I can say that; pat myself on the back. But are we setting the bar a bit low?  Would you be thinking the same thing about a student who was starting a book with the same not thinking, just doing attitude, going through the motions so to speak.  How is my struggle any different?

Enter my classroom a few months ago and picture “Andy”  His ripped book baggie is on his desk, and he’s digging deep into his backpack looking for his book, his post its, his notebook, his pen. Book and pen discovered, they land on his desk. He continues to dig for the post its. After a bit, he looks up, looks around, spots the box of post its  on the shelf, and off he goes to retrieve some. Meanwhile his pen has rolled to the floor. Back at  his seat, minutes pass as he looks for that pen. The book is closed. He gets up, walks to where pens are stored in the writing center. Finally back at his desk, the book opens. He’s doing what looks like he’s suppose to do but the lack of desire, the lack of purpose, the just-go-through-the-motions attitude is apparent. Reading is  a painful struggle for him.

I’m thinking you recognize this reader. Do you recognize the process of struggle in yourself? Maybe not as a reader, but in some other place in your life?

When we have to do something that involves struggle, we’d rather do anything else. Not that we don’t want to be great runners or readers, eventually. Just right now, we’re tired.  It hurts.  But we have to do this. So we open the door. We open the book. And go through the motions.

Clearly something is better than nothing, but how much longer will this work continue. Improvement? Not much.  And it just isn’t good enough.

So as I enter my classroom next year, I know that struggle is the norm and overcoming it with purpose, passion and a plan is the goal.  I want to process my students through my own lens of struggle. Remembering how hard it can be and looking for what keeps us getting up and going out the door. Because I believe if we meet our struggles with purpose, passion and a plan we will find moments when we shine.





Celebrating Learning at TCRWP Summer Reading Institute

I’m home, unpacked, and  the laundry is done after a week at Teachers College Reading Writing Project’s Summer Reading Institute. Anyone who has ever attended one of these institutes knows you get more than your money’s worth in learning and inspiration during the five-day experience. Cries of “that is so cool” — “I love this” — “have you read..” — “did you see this….” surround you. It is not only a gift to learn from the TCRWP think tank,  it is a privilege to be with the attendees.

celebrate link up

To celebrate this week on Ruth Ayers link up, I thought I’d share a little what I learned from Kathleen Tolan in her session titled The Intersection of Guided Reading, Strategy Lessons, and Book Clubs. The essence of this session was how the work we do in small groups should be assessment driven, flexible and fluid. The lines for guided reading, strategy group work and book club instruction blur  to meet student needs.

Simply put, we pull students for small group instruction when students aren’t getting what they need from the whole group lesson. When planning these groups we should aim to:

  • Minimize our talk — Nudge don’t give
  • Maximize student’s opportunity to work and work with each other
  • Move students to own their own learning by having them identify what they are doing well and what they are shooting for

Manageable bits of teaching is key. Students can only take in so much and you only have so much time. Keep your time with small groups to 10 minutes.

Use reading tool kits with mentor texts designed to highlight specific skill work and exemplar responses to show how readers might respond to a text. Have artifacts ready to leave with the student to refer to later and for you to reference when you check on their progress. Have cards or charts with character traits and feelings on them.

Use your read aloud in strategy lessons. Students know this text, so it’s a quick way to illustrate your teaching point. This way you minimize the time demonstrating and maximize the time students are working.

The strategy group lesson shifts the paradigm of the mini lesson. When you have a small group in front of you, you give the teaching point quickly and do very little demonstration. You set students up to do the work. As they work, you coach in to what they are doing and nudge them toward the skill. Don’t give it to them.  Students need to do the work, struggle a bit and figure it out.

Put post its in the first half of books for the work you want students to stop and notice. This supports clubs and strategy groups by giving students a clear picture of the kind of work they could do. As students read on past the post its you planted, encourage them to plant their own post its. Their response to your post its and the post its they place show their thinking about the book and their transference of the strategy.

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Let students read aloud a text together. What students hear and picture when reading is not the same. If we allow our kids to read aloud together, particularly when they are struggling for meaning, we are allowing them to read closely, to construct meaning together and teach one another.

Allow students to be mentors for each other. This happens when students talk about their reading and have a very clear idea of their goals. To do this we want to make sure that students have examples of expectations of work they could be doing in text and then allow them to identify their strengths and have conversations about it. Imagine having students going back and naming what they did well in the text. Constructing their own continuum of responses and working to get better and closer to what is expected.  Students need to be teaching each other. Pushing each other on their thinking. They need to be talking back and accumulating information. If we have more kids teaching each other, more kids are digging deeper into the text.

Kathleen said, “Reading skills are like a chain link fence. They all link together.”

This  tweet from Jenn wraps up the session beautifully.

If you want to know more about what happened last week at TCRWP’s institute, check out the twitter feed #tcrwp and Fran McVeigh’s blog here.