Celebrate: Present, Past and Future

This week has been a whirlwind of events that begin the culmination of our school year. One more week and it’s flying by, fast, furious, exhausting and worthy of celebration. Thank you, Ruth Ayers,celebrate link up for your blog and the practice of Saturday Celebration.

I celebrate my current students. This week my students completed their memoirs. Memoirs for fifth graders run the gamut. Most are touching remembrances of loved teachers, field trips, friendships and playground scuffles.

Getting to the core of what their fifth-grade year has meant to them is sometimes impossible. They are too close to the action to see it, or they’re just too young to do the deep reflective work. But if the doors are left open, important realizations can come to the surface.

For a few students, things I’ve seen all year, which they haven’t been able to see, bubble up. And for others, their words open my eyes to the see a struggle they had been covering up all year.

On Friday, they shared in small groups with cookies. Next week they’ll share a few select stories in front of the whole class. Of these, two or three will be read at their culmination.

This week I celebrate my former students.  Many schools have early dismissal days and former students come by and just hang out. They want to talk about life in general. I ask about their year and their plans for the summer. They just talk and talk and talk. I had lots of things to do, yet this time was priceless. I make a conscious choice to be very present for them.  Hearing how history is their favorite subject because it makes them think or how they’re the second fastest miler in their middle school. How they are struggling with family, friends or school are conversations I am privileged to hear.

The week I celebrate my future students. I had the opportunity to teach two writing lessons to my incoming fifth graders. I can’t recommend this practice enough. Seeing these fourth graders in their current classroom community is something I’ve wanted to do for years. Finally, I did it and wow what a great experience. They are comfortable, confident and eager to know what’s in store for them the next year. I get an initial read on them and a clearer vision of what to expect when they make my classroom their new home.

Summer is calling, yet we’re all holding on for a moment, looking backward and forward to what we’ve done and what we need to do.

Happy weekend.

Slice of Life: A Blue Ball

Saturday morning the doorbell rang. When this happens, it’s usually someone soliciting something, your vote, your money, your beliefs. This morning was different.

I open the door and in walks our four-year old next door neighbor. “We lost our ball,”  he announces and strides past me towards the backyard. His tow-headed three-year-old brother is close behind.  I follow noticing their lack of shoes. We pass my husband and walk out the sliding glass door. The sock-footed brothers venture ahead onto the pea gravel path that surrounds our house. They seem to know where they’re going.

“It’s a blue ball,” brother number one says.

We look. Nothing. Soon my husband joins in the hunt.

“You sure you hit it over here?” I ask.

“Yes,” says brother number one. “It hit here,” he says pointing towards the trellis.

We all follow his directions and look carefully around the base. No blue ball.

Brother number two looks at me. “Can I see your cat?” Clearly the next line of inquiry. No ball, how about that cat.

“Sure,” I tell him, and we go inside. We go through bedrooms, bathrooms and back to the living room where he announces, “Here he is!”

I pick up the cat, and he gently strokes his head. “He’s a nice cat. I want a cat.”

The doorbell rings. We, brother number two and I, open the door and there stands Dad.

“Dad, can we have a cat?”

I tell Dad we have not found the blue ball.

“Dad, can we have a cat?”

We all go outside looking for brother number one, my husband and the blue ball. No blue ball but brother number one and my husband are up on the hillside climbing around.

“Didn’t you guys lose that ball a few days ago,” says Dad.

“I threw some balls over the fence a few days back,” says my husband.

Suddenly brother number two looks up and says, “Daddy, can you hold me.” Apparently the hunt is over. The three leave for home without their blue ball.

I’d forgotten this age, the tiny feet, and voices.  I’d forgotten the earnest faces and pure joy blue balls, cats, and climbing hillsides.

I’d forgotten how powerful it is to pick a person up when they need it and carry them home.

Who knows what got the boys to venture into our backyard.  I don’t think it was because they just hit the ball over the fence. Did they just remember it? Whatever the reason, those two brought back sweet reminders of tending to little ones as they grow.

Seek out more slices of life here at Two Writing Teachers.


Celebrate: A chance to do things better

There are so many things to celebrate and appreciate every day, yet…

I came home last night upset and woke up in the same frame of mind. The negative, yucky feeling wasn’t letting go. It held on. I forced myself out of bed and into my usual Saturday routine. It was slow, but gradually, bit-by-bit, it shifted.

It started in the pool. From the first push off the wall, my mind went to the lack of pain in my knee and the sound of water moving.  Exercise lets my mind rest and my body work.

Once I got home, I read Elisabeth’s post. This line

A new day, a chance to do it better.

completed the shift. It was time to appreciate this week.

The simple and sweet:

  • A brand new carpet that students want to roll around on
  • Fifth graders caring for kindergarteners

The unexpected:

  • Rain
  • A stoic football-playing student dancing joyously
  • A student who has refused responsibility taking a leadership role
  • A “learning disabled” and a “gifted” elementary student becoming high school friends and scholastic equals

and what needs to be discussed:

I celebrate this week and a chance to do things better.

Thank you, Ruth Ayers, and all who link up with Celebrate This Week.

Slice of Life: Read Aloud Communion

This morning, the line of fifth graders seemed to be on vibrate.

Fidgeting and talkative, students settled for moments of instruction, attempting bits of work, then the nervous energy seeps out dissolving any possible focus.

Ah, the end of elementary school.  Worry permeates their writing. Talk bubbles all around, and the drama rises.

I asked students to come to the carpet for read aloud, and a sense of calm takes over.  As we move into the world of the story, the shared reading experience shuts out stress. It offers an opportunity to take a break and live through another’s eyes.

Today before we read about Salva Dut’s first air flight, I ask my students how many of them had ever been on an airplane. Half of the class raise their hand.

With this in mind I said, “For those of you who have been on a flight before, hear Salva’s words and live this experience alongside him. Your memories will help you. For those of you who haven’t been on an airplane, you must work a little harder, let his words create the experience you haven’t had yet. Let the language move your body and mind to be there with him.”

Students close their eyes, and I read A Long Walk to Water:

Salva stared at the scene outside the small window. The world was so big, yet everything in it was so small. Huge forests and deserts became mere patches of green and brown. Cars crawled along the roads like ants in a line…It landed with an alarming thump, then breaked so hard that Salva was thrown forward in his seat; the strap across is stomach caught him hard.

I reread. Students write and draw in their notebooks.  Then they talk.

I’ve been pushing my students to fill gaps in knowledge by looking things up. I’ve reasoned with this approach to reading, students might understand literature at a deeper level and at the same time build knowledge of the world. Just like they might look up a word’s definition, they might google an image to help them understand a piece of text.

But there are times in books when we can’t do this. Google images can’t get readers to feel. For this, we must take in the author’s words, put our hearts into the character’s experience, and let the emotions rise inside.

When we experience a story together, we set our personal worries aside and let the words fill us up to venture into the emotional and physical world of our read aloud.

The opening of a book is communion.


Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for Slice of Life Tuesdays. Read more or contribute your own slice  slices here.

Celebrate: The End of This Road

As we get closer to June, I feel the bumpiness that signals the end of this road.

Students aren’t sure what to do with it. Some ask questions, some worry silently, some act out, some do all of the above.

With all that surrounds this time of year, I am strangely energized.  It’s a crucial time to reflect: to recognize what went well, what was trouble and what needs to be done. So we assess. We get and give feedback.

This week students took their final running record assessment. This is one of the last times I will meet one-on-one with students to discuss their reading successes and goals.

Sitting with students, coaching into what they do well and what might be the next step as a reader, I get a little verklempt.

Throughout their elementary career, students have read hundreds of books, received daily lessons from many teachers and their growth has been monitored. Years of conference notes have been passed down from teacher to teacher for every student. These files are evidence of all the work done by students and teachers and it ends up in my hands.

This week I added the last running record to a very thick file. This last reading assessment is a culmination, a celebration of all the learning, teaching and reading over the last six years.

I’m so proud of what they’ve accomplished, yet I always, always think, now I see what needs to be done; if I could just have them a little longer.

During these conferences students invariably ask, will I get to do these in middle school? And that kills me because I don’t think so.

A few have gone beyond grade level expectations, and many have reached that place we call proficient.

Some are getting there. They’re growing, but they aren’t there yet. This group presents my challenge and my worry.  I need to consider what was done, what could have been done, and ask what can this group teach me.  While I know middle school offers bigger classrooms and different academic challenges, I feel students still need reading instruction.  And I wonder, always, always how does reading go for them in middle school and what can I do to make it better.

This week I pulled alongside each student, complimented their thinking work and tucked in one last teaching point with a “remember every time you–” and sent them off with their book.

This week I added the last piece of evidence to the file, proud of their accomplishments and a bit verklempt.

celebrate link up

Thank you to Ruth Ayers for her Celebrate link up.  As always, so thankful to be a part of this weekly practice. Read other celebrations or add your celebration here.

Slice of Life: Holding On

This weekend was hard. It was hard for my kids to see their grandfather slip away.

Sitting in that room, gathered around they see glimmers of their papa. He rallies for a moment then goes back to sleep. My son rubs his eyes and puts his head down. My daughter looks at him, her eyes red and swollen. She holds his hand. There is no hiding the fact that recovery isn’t possible.  The road has been long; the deterioration has been slow.  The fact that they can’t reach him hits them hard.

Walking out to our cars, saying our goodbyes, my son stands at the gate, frozen. I hug him, holding back tears, willing myself not to cry, trying to be strong.

My daughter leans in; wipes her face on my shoulder unafraid to hold on and not let go.

My husband’s silly joke makes it possible to walk out the gate and go on.  What a gift he gives us by lightening the load with a laugh.

Seeing a person slip away, you can’t help but wonder, where’d they go. Are they there and we just can’t see them?

The hospice nurse says this is a part of the process, which doesn’t answer any questions that are swirling around us.

We go home and hold our breath waiting and wondering. Holding on and holding back.


Thank you, Two Writing Teachers Blog for a space to share ourselves as writers and teachers of writing. Read more slices here.

DigiLit Sunday: Using Film as a Mentor Text

I’m slowly incorporating more digital into my literacy workshops.  Understanding the many options and how they might enhance learning has been a journey.  I’ve learned so much from those who contribute each week to Margaret Simon’s Digi Lit Sunday link up. You all inspire me to try things out and see where it might work in my classroom. Today I offer a piece of my learning.

slide11Testing ended this week, and I was itching to get back to teaching.  Anticipating the end of elementary school, students don’t quite know what to do with themselves. They are antsy. They need to be busy.

All of this makes the end of the school year a perfect time to try out new ideas, to stretch, to try something a little scary, but exciting in a safe place. So this week I challenged my 5th-grade students and myself to reach up to middle school expectations by introducing a new literary idea: tone.

I’ve stayed away from teaching tone for a couple of reasons. One, it isn’t a 5th-grade standard and two, I’ve been a little shaky on the difference between tone and mood. In my mind, they kind of flow together. But this week, for the challenge of it, we went there, and we went there by way of using film as an entry point to understanding.  Film is hardly new in the world of digital literacy, but it’s one of the most powerful teaching tools.

I introduced the concept by talking about a person’s tone of voice and how you can tell (or infer) how the speaker feels through that “tone”.

I gave students some possible words to describe the tone and then showed them a clip from the Hunger Games asking them to look for clues that might tell us the author’s feeling or attitude. Thanks to Katie Clements from TCRWP, I found Clip Converter that allows me to downloaded clips to my computer, making access fool proof during the lesson. No spooling, no ads, only what I wanted and when I wanted it. Clip Converter is easy, and the downloaded clips can be stored on Google Drive.

The beautiful thing about this clip is its lack of dialog.  We infer the emotion from facial expressions, body language and tone of voice. Students watched and jotted. Then they watched again looking for evidence to support their word choice. They came up with words like powerful, defiant, and fearless citing Katniss’s bold move shooting the apple and her tone of voice as she left.

Transferring this thinking to written text was the next step.

The planned read aloud was at a spot with intense action. I asked students to take the work they did with the film clip and use in this part of our story.

Hundreds of people lined the riverbank. The soldiers were forcing some of them into the water, prodding them with their rifle butts, shooting into the air. Other people, afraid of the soldiers and their guns, were leaping into the water on their own. They were immediately swept downstream by the powerful current.

This action packed part was a perfect place. It’s intense, and you can’t help but be on the edge of your seat. With me reading it, all had access to the text. Students came up with:

  • crazy
  • scary
  • chaos
  • doom
  • powerless

The images of rifle buts, forcing, shooting in the air, leaping in the water all created feeling and it was easy for students to describe the tone.

Using this clip again and again as a mentor text is inviting and accessible to all students. Film clips help students grab hold of abstract literary ideas. And I just don’t use it enough.

Can you imagine using this same clip to dig into character, setting, mood, symbolism? How could this be transferred into writing?  

Using Clip Converter and Google Drive as a virtual filing cabinet I’ll be more likely to reach for this tool in the future.

Slice of Life: I’m Bored

“I’m bored.”

All year I’ve blamed myself for this type of response.

Boredom: the nemesis of engagement. Perhaps, when were trying to teach someone. But could it also be a place of creation.

My first memories of boredom were on family vacations. The ones that took us through and to all kinds of national treasures. Boredom was a state of being on those trips. I got antsy. Wondered aloud when we were going to get there. And then,  I stared out the window, simply thinking. I remember how the landscape and structures we drove past triggered “what if” scenarios, stories.

Today, a long car ride is an opportunity.  I can’t do anything except think.

I have space to work through problems, get ideas.

I’ve found the treadmill provides that same kind of boredom. Running on the treadmill has become a place I can go to get ideas.

During testing boredom cropped up. If a student finished before their classmates, they were instructed to do a quiet activity of their choosing. A few read. Some doodled.  All seemed to relish this time just to relax. Let their mind wander.

Except for one student.  She was exceedingly uncomfortable. Antsy.

This time I didn’t feel guilty. I let her go there. Eventually, she settled down and found a way to keep herself occupied.

I wonder, how many students get the opportunity to be bored and to find the possibility boredom presents.

Hopefully, summertime will offer a place for boredom, perhaps a little discomfort, and then maybe a few thoughts will creep in. And then, who knows?

Thanks to Two Writing Teachers blog and the Slice of Life Tuesday. Read more slices here.

Celebrate: Culminating and Growing Learning

celebrate link up

This week…

I celebrate my students who showed strength and perseverance during five days of testing. I was worried about their stamina. I was afraid they’d be overwhelmed. I worried they’d lose focus. Maybe give up.

They showed me.  They worked. Took breaks and worked again, until they were done. They walked away proud. I know this because they said so. And not to me, to each other.

While I don’t believe young students should have to work this hard to show learning, I was taken aback and hugely impressed with their desire to reach for their best work.

And I have to wonder, where did that come from? We didn’t do much test prep.

Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t an accident. And it wasn’t me.

I believe it was purposeful reading instruction every day through interactive read aloud, mini lessons, small group work, and one on one conferring. Students have read with a purpose every school day without fail. Every school day, since they were in kindergarten.

The writing work was intentional. We cycled through narrative, opinion and informational units of study, again and again. We used mentor texts, checklists aligned to common core standards. (Thank you TCRWP Units of Study.) Students wrote every day without fail. Every school day. These students have been writing, with writing instruction since they were in kindergarten.

I believe my fifth graders sat and worked so hard during testing because of purposeful, school-wide instructional based reading and writing work from kindergarten, culminating at the end of their fifth-grade year. It was a result of all the work done by all the teachers they had before me. It was a result of parent support. Students believed they could do their best. So they did.

I have no idea what students’ scores will look like.  But at this point, I believe students reached for as much as they had in them. They showed what they could do. And, they were proud of themselves.

I don’t mean to leave an impression that all is done.

Which leads me to this…

I celebrate my 4th- and 5th-grade colleagues who on Friday afternoon spent two hours planning. Planning for our upcoming students. Planning for summer reading and writing. Planning for connecting with parents. Planning to build on what we have done.

I celebrate teachers who don’t want to let go of their current students, yet look forward to the next crop.

I celebrate walking away from that planning meeting revitalized with exciting ideas and next steps.

I celebrate a PLN, who with one tweet came back with so much feedback off of one query. I am so grateful for this community. We are better together for our students.

So today after a long week (is there anything more exhausting than testing?), I celebrate my students and all the learning and teaching that has been done over the past six years.

I am honored to have colleagues near and far who believe in purposeful, intentional, student-driven reading and writing instruction.

I am honored to be a part of it.

Thank you to Ruth Ayers and the practice of celebrating. Connect to others who celebrate their week here.