Celebrate This Week: Books, Books, Books, Kindness and Trust

Time to celebrate this week with Ruth Ayers.

First the books. I bought a bunch of books. My presents for my students and me. I get to read them first. Next week they go into the book lottery.


True confession: El Deafo by Cece Bell is the first graphic novel I have read and loved. Sorry all that came before. Maybe it was the bigger font. Maybe it was the fact that there were more “girly” images. Or maybe it was an easier read. I have to admit the more aggressive graphic novels were hard for me. Hard to follow. Made my eyes kind of spin. After reading El Deafo though reading Hera by George O’Connor was much easier. Hmm.


My readers who struggle with words placed traditionally in text can thrive and comprehend in the graphic novel world. A world I am just starting to learn. A place my strugglers thrive, I struggle. Time for them to start teaching me a thing or two.

I believe Fish in a Tree should be required reading for all teachers. I saw Lynda Mullaly Hunt at NCTE and was fortunate enough to get this book there. Ally’s struggle is mirrored in the lives of so many of my students. The way Mr. Daniels pulls her out and sees Ally is beautiful.  Hunt articulates the struggle perfectly, simply. So that we teachers can understand in our core.



In my professional stack is Dan Feigelsons’ Reading Projects Reimagined. I’m just starting on these “projects” with students and blogged about it here.  Magic words in this book, “say more about that” are worth repeating again and again and again so we teachers can start to hear what our students are thinking.


I want to celebrate kindness and trust.


My students have been sharing this Kindness matters tear off. I found it on  Pernille Ripp’s blog. We have been learning what kindness looks like day to day.



A student gave me this. I was so surprised and pleased. Kindness matters. I couldn’t ask for more.

2014-12-05 16.56.46


Happy Saturday.

celebrate link up



Listening Part One: “Say More About That”

I was looking through the bazillions of emails this morning, after filling up on wise words from blog posts and tweets, and I noticed this quote of the day at the top of my Gmail:

It is not the voice that commands the story; it is the ear.  —  Italo Calvino

That, I thought is it in a nutshell. Over the past several years I have been coming around to this notion of listening to the world around me.  I thought I knew what that meant. But you see, I’m a talker by nature. I think through my talk. That should have been a clue for me as a teacher, but I was too busy talking.

Only by listening can we communicate; only by listening can we teach.

As a teacher, my listening is often done through inquiry. I approach a student, ask, then listen. Sounds simple, but really not so, in at least three ways — one, the nature of my question(s); two, how I hear the response; and three, my response to the student’s response.

The nature of my questions has evolved dramatically thanks to writers like Vicki Vinton, Dorothy Barnhouse and now Dan Feigelson’s new book Reading Projects Reimagined. Rather than come prepared with a list geared to one skill or another, I come with a lean list. Questions that don’t have an agenda. In fact as I write this I realize they should be viewed as requests rather that questions.

  • What are you thinking/noticing
  • Say more about that
  • Why
  • How did you figure that out

I use these on an as needed basis; some more frequently than others. They work for almost anything, any book, subject, behavior, conversation. You name it. Try it on for size.  I’ve found the one I use most frequently  is “say more about that.”

The “say more about that” does something magical. First and foremost, it honors.

  • It says — what the student just said has value.
  • It says — the teacher is trying to learn from student.
  • It says — the teacher is listening.

Second, it allows students to develop their thinking beyond their initial thought. Thinking takes time, and by allowing students that space you’re giving them room to really process. I want my students to go on a journey of thought. “Say more about that” allows for the journey; for their thoughts to develop through conversation with a patient listener.  Using “say more” in conferences gives students a sense that their thinking matters and a way to develop their thoughts. It could be seen as a first step to metacognition and personal agency.

If that was all “say more about that” did it would be huge. Well worth your teaching time. But there is so much more. It gives teachers a window into where students really are in their thinking. It gives teachers a huge leg up on what and (more importantly) how students are processing material, as well as next steps for the teacher. (More on that in another post.)

Students are thinking. Our job as teachers is to get them to do more of that work and help them along the way. If we as teachers jump too quickly to our (often very visible) agendas and teaching points, without giving students space to say more about their thinking, we are not really listening. In so doing, we may inadvertently miss the mark completely, wasting our teaching time and more importantly our student’s learning time.

Slice of Life: Stopped Cold

Today was an adjustment for my 5th graders  Their last day in class was November 21st. A lot has happened to them in the week we weren’t together.  Lots to catch up on. To figure out.

My morning class seemed to flow. They jumped back into the routine.

By the time the second class rolled in, recess had happened, students were reaching their max in terms of focus. Tired bodies and minds had the need to go to the bathroom, walk around, talk, get drinks of water.

There were many one-on-one conversations and many worked to solve their problems on their own.

One student in particular was having a rough time. This isn’t unusual for B. We talked.  About books, about where he should work. About keeping his thoughts in his head until it was time to talk. About the choices he could make on the playground and in the classroom.

After lunch — My students migrate from the yard to the classroom. I walk behind two souls who are beautiful, bright and don’t fit comfortably in classrooms. They are too big in spirit. I watch them bouncing and spinning as we move towards the door. One of them is B.

We get into reading and things seems to settle. I sigh and send a silent thank you to the gods of patience that guide me. Then a bit of unrest starts up in the space B inhabits. I overhear him tell another student, “I won’t be in school tomorrow.”


I call him over and ask about his planned absence.

“I’m going to a funeral.”

“Oh no, a relative?”

“Yeah. My cousin.”

I pause and ask, “How old?”

“18,” he tells me. “He was shot. In his apartment. By police.”

I’m stopped. Cold.

This is what happened on his Thanksgiving break. This is what was in his head as I talked with him about books about his choices on the yard about school.  Oh my.

I was too busy managing busyness, the seating, iPads, shopping for books, book talks, recommendations, blog, vocabulary, read aloud, all the little things. The usual.

I didn’t hear what I needed to hear until the end of the day. We didn’t get to what we needed to get to today.

When I got home I googled “18 year old shot.”  I found his cousin, plus this report from The Daily Beast. Tragic, by anyone’s measure. This is happening right here, right now to our children. Eight years from now, will it be the boys in my classroom? This quote from Roxanne Gay cited  on Vicki Vinton’s recent blog post keeps ringing in my ears:

How do we see one another as human, as having lives that matter, as people deserving of inalienable rights?

Vicki goes on to offer hope and a challenge.

I believe the answer lies in part in classrooms and in people like the ones I heard at NCTE who are trying to help children revise, rewrite, recast and reimagine the stories of their lives so that we can all be and do better.

This is a big challenge. I’m not sure I know how.  But, I know I need to try.

I’ve found some good resources at #FergusonSyllabus. These were the few that spoke to me: Lee Warren’s  tips  could work at any grade level.  Jen Cort also offers sound advice here for dealing with uncomfortable but meaningful issues.  I’ve also got this chat on my calendar.

If you are so inclined, add in your thoughts, tips, recommendations in the comments. My thanks to you lovely Slicers.

Thank you Anna, Betsy, Beth, Dana, Stacey and Tara four Slice of Live Tuesdays. Read more slices here.