Thank You Wonder — My 2014 OLW

This is my last post for 2014, and time to thank my one little word for the year, wonder.

My OLW has been a wonderful companion, and I’m not saying goodbye. Wonder has taken up residence. It will sit beside me as I adopt a new OLW for 2015. So much has been conjured by wonder, and I am grateful for it’s presence.

Wonder allowed me to question myself and others in a way that is gentle and open. It is a nonjudgmental word, ready for whatever might appear.  I believe it’s semi-magical secondary meaning edges into it’s questioning component and allows thinking to get even bigger.

Wondering first made its appearance with the book What Readers Really Do by Dorothy Barnhouse and Vicki Vinton. The process of wondering about what we notice is so powerful in reading, and as with any great strategy it bridges to all parts of life. That is what wonder has done for me.

This year, the act of wondering made reading accessible for struggling readers and helped make the process of reading more visible for the proficient.

This year, on a macro almost subconscious level, the permission to wonder allowed me to take chances, to open doors, and go places I never knew existed.  Some of the places I went were inside me; some were to places that involved airports and hotels; some were to places where closer relationships and understandings exists.

Thank you to all who ventured and wondered with me: my students, my colleagues I see down the hall and in the coffee shop, my blogging community of Slicers and Celebrators, my TCRWP virtual and sometimes face-to-face colleagues,  my NCTE cohorts Mary Lee Hahn, Fran McVeigh, Steve Peterson and Vicki Vinton,  my husband, and my family who didn’t choose me, but love me anyway. This year has been a wonderful journey.


Looking forward to next year with wonder beside me and another one little word.

Slice of Life:

If anyone had told me I’d slice every Tuesday during 2014 and every day in March of that same year I would have said, you are crazy. In fact that is exactly what I asked myself in my first SOL post in November of 2013: Am I Crazy?

I sliced even when I thought I nothing to say or sometimes too much to say.

I worried when I hit the publish button.

Did that make any sense?

Was that too personal?

Too long?

Too short?

Was that a slice?

This happens sometimes, in fact all of those questions are rattling around in my mind right now and as I publish this reflection on my year.

Maybe I should just write about something safe.

In the Slice of Life community my worries were unwarranted. Not that every post was perfect, or couldn’t be improved. SOL welcomed me, typos and all.  The community allowed me to just write, to try.  In joining this community of writers I started to consider myself a writer.

Slicers’ comments quieted my fears, made me brave, and brought me back. Without feedback I know I would not have written week after week.

Today I remember those slices when worries surrounded my words. I hit publish and held my breath. Slicer words came back and I exhaled. Someone read my words and understood.

When I started slicing I thought it would be a place to help me become a better writing teacher .I had no idea what I was in for.

Friendships created through written words is a very special thing. I had no idea. People who share their words and understand mine.  Miraculous.

Thank you Slicers. Thank you Two Writing Teachers. Thank you Anna, Beth, Betsy, Dana, Stacey and Tara. You have changed me as a teacher, but more importantly you have taught me the power of the written word.

Read more slices here.




New Year, Next Steps

recite-12936-765988298-tnu77rI always question my actions; whether or not it is the best thing, the right thing. While I don’t believe there is one way, I do believe there are things to aspire to, goals to reach for.

A new year is a great time to review the goals: where we are right now and where we want to be next year.

FIRST:  Students need to understand what it means to be swept away in a book and to know that books are a way to experience and improve their world.

Right now: all students don’t always feel that swept away feeling, BUT they all know that feeling. Every student in my classroom loves graphic novels and read aloud. These are the gateway drugs. The trick is getting these habits to bridge to other reading  domains.  While all students can’t reach these expectations in all reads, they know what it feels like to read, to comprehend, to enjoy a book.

Next year, I want to move students toward finding books that meet their interests; to become proactive in their search for reads. I want students to grow their thinking about the world through reading. I want to students to move their questions in fiction towards answers for and within their world. I hope to create pathways that students will take naturally: using literature to lead to personal action or to research questions that were provoked by fiction.

Next year, I want students to build better relationships with and through literature. My students don’t all get along.  Kindness can be lacking. I believe they don’t see kindness as often as they should; they aren’t really acquainted with it.  Selfishness can be very natural. Sometimes it’s about survival. In our classrooms we need teach kindness. We need to notice and name it; model it, practice it, and work toward independence. Without kindness, most students, most people don’t have much of a chance. We live with each other, our actions effect each other deeply. Imagine the classroom with “behavior problems.” That is the classroom with very little kindness; one that is filled with selfish disruption. If I have to justify the teaching of kindness, that would be my reason. But honestly, without a good dose of kindness, what kind of a life are we creating. Not one I want for my students or me.

SECOND:  Students need to be able to communicate their feelings and ideas in writing.

Right now: Students love blogging and they are proficient writing about their passions. Generally speaking they know how to structure informational and opinion work.

Next year: I want students to become better listeners. They are social beings and want to talk to each other through their writing. They just aren’t listening. Perhaps that starts with their own writing. Students write but struggle to go back and listen to their writing. Getting those ideas out is hard. Still we need to listen to what we write. To make sure what we said is what we want.

Next year: I want students to listening to each other’s writing and respond to what was said in a way that builds writers and relationships. While it is hard for students to listen to their own words, it is even harder to listen for another’s words. This goes back to the need for kindness and understanding when commenting on another’s writing.

Next year: I want technology to help students more than it has. We have iPads and blogging, but we need more. We will be FINALLY going to Google docs and testing out a new Chromebook. I’m so excited for this new tech that will make the physical work of writing easier.

THIRD:  Students need to have goals that matter to them.

Whenever I struggle with something, anything I try to take note of what keeps me going. What stops me from giving up. Reaching goals no matter how small the goal makes me feel good and willing to keep trying.

Right now:  In reading, students have benchmarks in terms of number of books read and levels. Students have looked at their reading habits in the classroom and at home and have set some personal goals. There are expectations as to writing about reading that are not always met. In writing students use checklists and exemplars. Students love genius hour but have not set up goals or expectations which has led to some questioning of the work.

Next year: We need to set up systems to monitor the personal reading goals as to genre, volume and writing about reading. The goals are there they set them we just need to monitor them or they are useless.

Next year: Students set personal reading goals, but they haven’t done this for writing.  Writing is a unit-driven process in the classroom, and that is good. But students need to grow their writing outside of those units in an authentic way. Genius hour might be one way to build in authentic personalized writing work.

I believe with these goals. standards will be authentically reached for, and learners will emerge.

A few other things on my mind as I start the new year …

  1. Students need to become more conscious of their learning process.
  2. Steps learners need to take to get to their goal are personal and varied.
  3. Listening well is my biggest challenge




Celebrate This Week and Year End 2014

This is the last week to celebrate 2014. I have enjoyed reading celebration posts all year. Thank you to all who share and thank you Ruth, for hosting this rejuvenating ritual.  Read more Celebrate posts here.

celebrate link up

First: When everyone is home, life is slow and lazy and loud. We eat, talk, read, watch movies, and sleep in.  Today, I celebrate a home that is filled up and lived in.

Secondly:  It is wonderful to watch someone open a gift and knowing, just by the expression on their face, it is a perfect match. My daughter is an expert at this kind of matchmaking. Most importantly she  loves doing it.  I celebrate her loving and gift-giving spirit.

Being the last Celebration Saturday of 2014, I thought I’d dig in to my blog, as a personal retrospective. As a rather unscientific way of culling through my thoughts in 2014, I searched posts for key words. There is some cross over, but still interesting. Listed in order of frequency of mention, highest being 146, lowest 20:

  1. Writing
  2. Reading
  3.  Writing about reading
  4. Wonder
  5. Twitter
  6. Colleagues
  7. Read Aloud
  8. Listening
  9. TCRWP
  10. Student Blogging
  11. Poetry
  12. Reading Logs
  13. Genius Hour
  14. Common Core

Blogging is, in part a tool for reflection. Reflecting on my reflecting, I’m pleased, to a degree, and not totally surprised. Some items that didn’t score as highly as I would have liked were “student engagement” receiving only seven mentions, and “growth mindset” mentioned only three times. Something to think about as I enter the new year.

Another thing I spent time with this week was this compilation of TED talks: a year in ideas. It is a wonderful taste of TED in 2014 — informative and inspirational. Find a few that intrigue you and enjoy!

Of the ones I’ve watched so far these two hit me hardest. Funny and tragic and something that lingers with me as I think about the year to come.


Happy 2014!

Slice of Life: A Chicken Moment

The last slice before Christmas and all through the house, all creatures are sleeping as I work on this post. Thank you to Two Writing Teachers Blog. You, Anna, Beth, Betsy, Dana, Stacey and Tara, give us so much daily and then this Tuesday time and place to share.


Dinner was being made by many hands last night. That’s a nice thing about the holiday season. Meals together that are made together.

I make the salad.

My son cooks the sliced chicken.

My daughter heats the sauce.

Reaching and bending around each other, the table is set and food is placed.

The sauce is ready and my son starts to pour it over the chicken.

“You stir it,” my daughter tells me. “It tastes better when you do it.”

“How old are you! 6?” her oldest brother teases.

“No, 7,”  she shoots back.

These moments happen infrequently outside of this space we carve out for holidays. Usually everyone is running to their commitments. Making reports and then moving on to the next challenge. Rushing towards success, to independence, to grow up.

At this chicken moment, I remember times when she has asked me to make her a sandwich, toast the bagel, make a smoothie, sit beside her during a sad or scary movie. Not because she is can’t do it, but because she wants me to.

This slice of holiday life is fleeting, but present in tiny pockets of the day to day. Something to listen for in the new year.

I stir the sauce onto the chicken, making sure all the pieces are coated, and smile inside.

Happy Holidays, peace and reflective moments to you all.

Celebrate: Natural Endings

This week, celebrating is a natural thing to do.

One: I celebrate the hard work and team work it takes to perform in front of others.

  • All 120 students performed four times for friends and family, reciting the preamble to the Constitution and the fifty states and capitols.
  • All 120 students ran a mile, a traditional fifth grade race, with the entire school cheering them on.

For some students these tasks were easy. Some are natural performers and athletes. But for most, this took a bit of courage and perseverance.  They were nervous, jumping and pacing before each event. For these moments they were all stars.

Two: I celebrate storytelling as a pathway to learning and writing. Students had researched and written reports about Westward Expansion, but their work was rather lifeless. Their voice was lost in the facts and dates they had taken in. Most did not connect the various parts.

Inspired by a post from Steve Peterson, on the power of narrative in content learning, and a visit from our TCRWP staff developer Katie Clements, who worked with us to help students find their own voice in writing about reading,  I decided to celebrate their writing  through storytelling.

I gave students paper, markers and invited them to tell the story of Westward Expansion.

2014-12-18 09.02.07Most students split the project up into the pieces they knew well. Then they presented their stories to the class. All were unique.  Some told the story as a chronology. Some told pieces of the story as cause and effect, while others saw their part as a problem with needed solutions.

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The hardest part for students to articulate was how the story connected.  As students presented, we kept track of ideas. After each group we looked for patterns that led students to see more about how the story might fit together.

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I was fascinated by this process. Structure was a natural outgrowth. Voice was present in the drawings and the presentations. These elements that I struggled to capture instructionally came out as students revised their work by telling the story together. After their presentations, all saw the need to revise their writing.


Three: I celebrate the joy in giving gifts. Students came early to class on Friday, arms filled with presents. They begged me to open them. I loved the mugs, the candy, and the ornaments made just for me.

2014-12-20 08.02.51

I gave students a set of personalized pens.  Finding their name, first and last, embossed on a pen amazed them. “How did you do this?!!”

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Four: I celebrate the end of our read aloud: Wonder. We had a lot to finish in the Julian chapter, but students sat rapt, begging to go on. I was glad to oblige and sipped tea to keep my voice alive. Between the two classes, I spent nearly two hours reading aloud. Not a bad way to end 2014.

Five: I celebrate winter break and the time with family. I’m ready to let 2014 wind down; reflect, relax and look forward.

Thank you Ruth Ayers for the opportunity to Celebrate This Week. Find other celebrations here.

Happy holidays.

celebrate link up





Slice of Life: Genius Hour Revisited


We had Genius Hour yesterday.

During our Genius Hour time I don’t direct the work, the students do. I operate as a consultant and resource. I’ve been a big proponent of this work, because of the agency it builds. That doesn’t mean I don’t question the work and watch, try to guide and counsel on as needed basis. Yesterday was a day I questioned their work.

Our focus this year has been to research or follow your passion or what bothers you, and find a way to help make a difference in the world.

I encourage individual work, but many students gravitate toward group work. The trouble with groups is the possible reduction in personal agency and that strong personalities can dominate the group. Some kids get excluded. You know that kid: the kid who is “annoying,” the kid that doesn’t fit in.  This year, it seemed that students were working well together.

Ironically, trouble started in the “kindness project” group. I heard talk that was far from kind. They were saying and doing things that were exactly what they were preaching against.  This talk led me to stop the class half way through our time.

I asked students to put their work aside and write, persuade me, prove to me that Genius Hour time was worthwhile. All you could hear was the tapping of pens on the desk.

As an aside, they can write argument when it’s something they have a strong opinion about. Three reasons why with supporting evidence, introductions, conclusions and a fair amount of begging could be found in most letters. All done in ten minutes with no planning, prompts, charts or talk preceding their writing. Here’s a sampling of their big ideas:

It makes us feel like we are in charge; playing but working at the same time

I want to teach myself and share my thinking

It helps me with problems – I learn new things

I want to show others that we are geniuses and help other people

It inspires us to do more

We work hard on these projects, inside and outside the classroom

We are able to study things we want to learn in this world

It helps us learn things we didn’t know and helps us spread ideas to the world

It is a time for us to express our genius and stand up for what we believe in

The responses shined a light on why this is valuable time for students.  When I think back on what I have observed I note the troubles and the strengths. Some struggle to find focus and have switched projects. A lot of the work is done outside of class. Some of it was socializing and messy and loud. The trouble in groups happened, but the majority showed great team work and dedication to their work.

Reading through the responses, one piece stood out with a contrary and sobering point of view. “N” liked the time, but she also had the strength to stand up and say the opposite of the group:

I honestly don’t think we need to continue. I don’t know. I’m like, can we just read? I don’t like a loud room and I have things I like to do, but I think that most just want to be with friends.

At the bottom of the page, “N” wrote and then scratched out: “so I think if we do the Genius project….”  I wonder she had in mind.

This one student’s voice is true and indicative of something that needs to change. And maybe not just for her, but for others who need more quiet, focused and personally responsive time.

Providing students with Genius Hour time when time is in short supply, might be a dangerous move. It is not safe. It is possible that the majority are just saying what they think I want to hear to continue in this rather unstructured school time. With that said, I know there is thinking, reading and writing inspired by Genius Hour that has continued outside the classroom time. This is the type of work  we want our students to engage in. Independent, self propelled learning that is done for their own interests and not because a teacher told them to do it.

Genius Hour might  have times that are less than perfect, but it has gotten students to do work they otherwise wouldn’t have done.  The fact that my students feel they have “genius and stand up for what [they] believe in” is big. And that is exactly what “N” did when she apologized for not liking the noise and wanting to just read.

We have things to work out with our Genius Hour time, but isn’t that true for all things we do in the classroom. Things need to be worked on to meet the needs of all. Luckily the room is filled with genius, so it’s not all on me.

Thank you Anna, Betsy, Beth, Dana, Stacey and Tara at Two Writing Teachers for providing a space to share these slices of teaching life. A space to work out it out. Sometimes we just need to write. Read more slices here.



Celebrating: Students

This week and my students were wild and wet; up and down.  Today, the ground is wet, but skies are clear, and I am celebrating my students with you and those who celebrate with Ruth Ayers every week.  They got through some difficult spots, but came out, in my opinion, shining.

Winter Break is almost here and kids feel it. Schedules were disrupted due to practicing for the winter pageant and the rain. Even with that underlying craziness, students did as they were asked. They practiced their performance. They lined up by height, climbed up on risers, squeezed close together and sang.  Fifth graders don’t like to stand close to one another, smile and sing. But they did it. Their voices rising in unison. Their faces shining. I hate the practice, but the results always  get to me and I smile deep inside.

This brings me to the assessment  I gave my students this week. I hate giving tests. Hate taking tests.  But I have to admit, the results can be fascinating. I told my students, as I handed them the (gasp) practice language arts performance assessment from Smarter Balanced,  this is to help me help you.

The content wasn’t bad, three articles about service animals. They were interesting and not too long. I knew some would struggle, some aren’t there yet, but it seemed appropriate for fifth graders in May. I figured it wouldn’t kill them, so let’s see what they can do.

They were to read the articles, answer a few opened ended questions, and then write an opinion piece using the information.

Watching them take this was painful and pleasing. Sort of like watching them line up and sing. They suffered a bit as they hunkered down to read a text that was not their choice. But they took out their notebooks and jotted their noticings and thoughts. They wrote in the margins of the text. They took their time. They worked hard. I was proud of them, and worried for them.

They read, re read, and finally got to the questions. Did they have enough left to answer the questions at the end of all that?

The following day they wrote their opinions.

After it all was over, I asked them what they thought about the work. They said it was exhausting, it was challenging, and it wasn’t what they wanted to do.

I asked them was it good to know what they would be facing in May? They all said yes, loud and clear.


Students have to take this test, for better or for worse.  In all fairness to them, they need and want to know what they need to face.

I spent last night looking at their work. What I saw were big ideas from the text jotted in the margins as well as their thoughts, questions, and reactions.

2014-12-13 10.40.192014-12-13 10.35.25

That right there said they understood the text, they interacted with the text, they had comprehension and thinking that went with the text.

Their answers weren’t perfect, but the majority were getting there. From what I could see, the errors were largely due to the fact that they didn’t read the questions as thoughtfully as they read the text. In most cases it had nothing to do with their actual comprehension.

In writing, about two-thirds had written opinions and the others had written informational pieces. Were they perfect, no. Were they thoughtful, yes. The majority showed their thinking about the topic and incorporated some of their learning from reading the articles.

My students have not mastered the expectations of the common core as measured by this assessment. What they showed was that the work that we (as a school) have been doing is getting them there. And more importantly they are readers, thinkers and writers. .

Today I celebrate my fifth graders and all the teaching and learning that has happened in their elementary school careers. I celebrate the years of excellent, authentic teaching in classrooms filled with read aloud, guided and strategic reading and writing instruction, with real books and magazines, and the opportunity to read and write daily.  I celebrate the opportunity I have to continue to teach and learn with my students in the months to come.

celebrate link up


Slice of Life: Seeking Real Food that is Lost in Transition

Last night my husband made dinner.

“I don’t trust anything that isn’t packaged in plastic,” he joked.

Due to our heavy reliance on all things Trader Joe’s, salads, pizzas, wraps, pastas, you name it, are prepared and packaged. Every meal is quickly created by mixing, boiling or heating. Occasionally extra veggies are cut or a little cheese is shredded, but the salad dressing is in the package, the sauce to be added (not created) might be from another container. Sometimes we slice some bread.  I’ve often thought we’d starve were it not for TJs.

The meals are quick and good but my husband’s comment is disturbing. Our daughter’s response to the meal was, “When are we going to have real food!”  (Her idea of “real” is Hot Pockets, the grocery store version of TJs.  Which is again, disturbing.)

How did I get here? I was the organic recipe seeker, the baby food maker, the farmer’s market shopper. Now I can’t be bothered to make coffee, let alone grind it from fresh organic, free market beans. No, I pop in the k-cup of Peat’s high-octane blend as I fly out the door, feeling good about the fact that I didn’t stop for coffee at the local Starbucks. Good about saving time and a little money. But annoyed by the fact I had to add water to the machine.

Not too long ago I would regularly cook a meal, with ingredients that were chosen, cut, sautéed, broiled, or baked by me. Leftovers existed. The quick meal was on Friday, when we were all out of “real food.” Real food seems to be something I plan to do. Just not right now. You see, I’m late. I’m hungry. I got to go. I don’t have time.

But time has always been scarce. Even in the past when I cooked and shopped for my family. The change is the family. As they went off to their own lives, the need to make a real food diminished. The few that remain were often off doing, and getting home late. Meal time became a solitary venture. The lack of others diminished food’s importance.  Full disclosure, I’m not a foodie. Left to my own devices, I’d gladly eat Triscuits and cheese for dinner. Until I get thirsty and then I’d have some seltzer water.

The trouble with this is not just the lack of environmental friendliness, increased cost and high salt intake.  It’s the isolation, the lack of human interaction, discussion, and connection. Being alone can be a nice break for an overburdened parent, but too much of it is just not healthy.

Luckily, in just a few weeks, the holidays will bring family home. Whether out of guilt or habit, they come back and with them come routines, rhythms, and expectations. Some of it is strange stuff: sibling to sibling and child to parent interactions that are struggling towards adulthood. But with it comes good things, real food and discussion.


I’m still moving from what was to what could be. I’m just a bit lost in transition. I wonder (my one little word for 2014) what might move me towards this after the holidays pass.

Thanks to Anna, Betsy, Beth, Dana, Stacey and Tara for Slice of Life Tuesdays at Two Writing Teacher blog. A wonderful place to share our thoughts and writing. Read more slices here.



Attempting Techie: Combining Words and Pictures

Finally (a sort of) techie post for Margaret Simon’s Reflections on the Techie.


I’m always looking for ways to show quotes easily and beautifully in blog posts..

I found  Recite on  Starr Sackstein’s blog.

It’s easy and offers many pictures as background for your quote. Here’s a sample:



I’ve used (as recommended by Carol Varsalona)  picmonkey. Loved it, but it seems I need to subscribe (rats) after a month.


I’m sure there are many more.