Slice of Life: Home is What Feels Right

I’m home after two weeks of travel. Every place I visited, I’ve thought, “I could live here.”

My husband and I have had this discussion: If we could just pull up stakes and move, where would we go? We go through the pros and cons of the places we know,  and places we imagine. But we never come to any conclusions.

This morning I walked into the coffee shop and saw the regulars.

In walks a woman who gets coffee at the same time I do. She’s an engaging person, thoughtful and friendly, the kind of person you want to talk to, to be around. She’s a doctor of geriatrics at USC. Has four grown children. We exchange the usual “how’s it going?” pleasantries.

Today, she tells me, is her last day at work. She does not say retire.  “I am allergic to that word,” she says.

“Oh my gosh!”  I say. I’m shocked,  the thought of her doing something other than what she does hadn’t crossed my mind. “What are you going to do now?”

“We’re going to lease, or maybe sell the house; go to Europe for a year,” she says. “We’re just going to travel and see what feels right. That’s the plan, if it doesn’t work, we’ll adjust.”

What feels right.

Sounds like the journey my children are on. Beginning their lives, separating from their childhood, they are looking to make homes of their creation, their place to be in the world, to engage and be engaged by the world. They are looking for what feels right. 

Who’s to say this is just a journey for the beginning. My friend doesn’t see it this way.

Where or what home might be should not be a fixed place or idea. From time to time,  we should ask ourselves, what feels right.

Perhaps it’s the travel.

Perhaps it’s the journey I see others taking.

Possibilities are there. They’ve always been there. It’s just now, perhaps, it’s time to ask what feels right.

Thanks to Two Writing Teachers for Slice of Life Tuesdays. Read more slices and consider sharing one of your own here.


Digi Lit Sunday: A Virtual Book Club

Here’s a late post for DigiLit Sunday. A place to share our digital literacy learning hosted by Margaret Simon on her blog Reflections on the Teche.slide11

Last week I was at Bank Stree Books Store in New York City with teacher friends, Sally Donnelly, Allison Jackson and Fran McVeigh, and we all bought Cynthia Lord’s new book Handful of Stars.  We teach in different schools, in different states, but we share the same passion for reading and belief in our students.


After my first day at the Summer Writing Institute, I wanted read this book as a club with my TCRWP colleagues. So I suggested a virtual book club. Immediately, the three and others in different states (who found out on Twitter) jumped on board. We plan to start the week of July 6th. If you’re interested in joining click here to add your name and contact info.

How might this “virtual” book club work? After a little discussion, Google Docs was thought to be the most universal in terms of access and knowledge base. Perhaps if the group is up for it, we can throw in a Twitter chat.

The question I’m pondering: Is there a better technology tool to make virtual book clubs more effective?

I’d been hearing about Voxer for awhile. I love Twitter and my blogging friends. Dare I open up another tool? Could it overwhelm and fracture my already splintered focus?

With encouragement from folks like Dr. Mary Howard and Jenn Hayhurst, I signed up.

Disclaimer: I have been using Voxer in a group chat for a short period, but I can see the potential value in it.  We have been discussing Jennifer Serravallo’s new book, The Reading Strategies Book. Voxer does provide something different. And that difference is the actual conversation.

The Pros:

  • Allows for spoken conversations. It acts as a walkie-talkie.  You push a button and talk.
  • You can choose to write your thoughts, and the text space is unlimited.
  • You can  add attachments, pictures and links,
  • When you are invited in for a chat, you are linked to all others in the chat.  The conversation is “heard” by all.
  • It’s happening 24/7, so like Twitter you can add into the conversation or check back at any time.
  • You can save comments by “starring” them.
  • It’s on your phone; you’re mobile!

The Cons:

The free version has limitations.

  • Limited data retention
  • Limited number of users in chat
  • No computer access, you must have a smartphone to use
  • You have to hold down the talk button to keep recording
  • It might get hard to follow conversation over time

I’m using the free version and have enjoyed using it. It is fun to hear comments and be unlimited by the number of characters you use if you choose to text. The real power of Voxer seems to be in using the record function. If you are going to write your responses, a Google doc might be a better way to go for a written conversation.

Try out a chat on Voxer with someone to get the feel of it. Then consider VoxerPro if it’s something you could see benefiting your team.

Personally I’m loving trying it out.

Celebrate: Learning with TCRWP

It’s time to celebrate this week with others on Ruth Ayers’ weekly link up. Find other celebration posts here.

celebrate link up

Today I celebrate this week at TCRWP’s Summer Writing Institute.

Prepare to be jealous.

In addition to keynotes from Carl Anderson, Lucy Calkins, Mary Erhenworth, Naomi Shihab Nye and Sarah Weeks, I attended daily break out sessions on Writing about Reading with Ali Marron and Using Children’s Literature as Mentor Text with Shana Frazin.imgres

The learning was monumental. Ideas intermingled and cross-pollinated. This was not simply a Writing Institute; it was a Literacy Institute.

First: It is a beautiful thing to help students find their voice when writing about reading.  Too often this work translates into an accountability tool, destroying the good intentions of teachers and potential book love. By offering students some latitude and ownership in their writing about reading process, we send the message of agency and trust.

Second: As with any learning, models matter.  Offering freedom to develop a personal style, we all benefit from seeing many models teacher’s and students’. Imagine your first week of school creating a gallery of possible ways to write about reading.

Third: Audience matters. When we have an audience, our engagement goes sky hight. Everyone wants to come to the party with something valuable to share. The work is purposeful just because someone else is depending on you.

Fourth: Tools, strategies and scaffolds are necessary but, scaffolds should be training wheels. When we introduce a scaffold, the plan to take it away should be an integral part of the plan.

Fifth: Examining children’s literature as a mentor text build reading and writing muscles!  We looked at several texts from a structural point of view. This work is thought-provoking as a reader and a writer. Look at the many possible ways teachers mapped out the structure of Eve Bunting’s Yard Sale.



IMG_2355After that work, we added a layer of thought: How the theme was revealed through the lens of structure. The first example might be an upper elementary analysis followed by a middle school interpretation.



This brilliant work speaks to working collaboratively and thinking deeply about a text.

Imagine how this could be used as a way to inspire narrative writing structures or as a way to analyze Bunting’s use of theme in a literary essay.

To paraphrase Shana, I was so happy these beautiful teachers came to school this week.

Poetry Friday: Naming It

Yesterday I sat in Cowin Auditorium at Teachers College and listened to Naomi Shihab Nye.

Love flowed from her to us and back again. We are her tribe. She spoke, and we held on. The power of writing lifts us up and fills us with what we know to be true.

Nye offered four pieces of sound writerly advice:

1. Be a fan of writers, artists, musicians, the weird gardner down the street. This  gives you fuel, it gives you energy to go on.

2. Believe in the tiny increments of time, they stack up and allow you to build.

3. Share your work

4. Have rituals, they promote confidence

In the spirit of this, hello Poetry Friday. No apologies necessary. The ritual begins.


allows identity.


allows memory.

It gives us a place

to be heard

and know we matter.

With that power

we think

and become more.

We find the form,

the shape

and name it.

We exist.

©Julieanne Harmatz

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Thank you, Carol, at Carol’s Corner for hosting this week.

Slice of Life: Adventures in Writing About Reading with Ali Marron

Lucky me I get to write, yet what I’m writing about isn’t easy. I chose to put myself in a place I struggle to make sense of, a place I am less than successful, a place I avoid.

I signed up for Writing About Reading at TCRWP’s Summer Writing Institute. Lucky me, I get to read and learn with Ali Marron and a room full of passionate teachers of reading and writing.

I signed up for this because I know that writing leads to greater understanding. I signed up for this because writing about reading is difficult for me be disciplined about doing, and it’s difficult for students to see the purpose or pay out. If they enjoy reading, they don’t want to stop reading to write. And, if they have to jot to hold on to meaning, it’s arduous.

I’ve worked hard on selling the merits of writing about reading, yet it hasn’t caught on.  Most of my students do it, but not with great excitement or with great outcomes. And, it’s not surprising. Maybe because I’m not a very skilled practitioner.

Ali shared some key points about the work.

First:  Writing about reading should engage us in the text.

Second: Part of becoming a stronger reader is putting yourself in a place of discomfort. Reading is invisible. So to help students, teachers need to see the kind of thinking being done. .

Third: It should facilitate synthesis. Ideas need to be tracked. Notebook structures need to promote thinking; we need to go back and revisit old ideas.

With this in mind, Ali shared some student work. Ah, mentor texts. Cool little drawings, pictures, post-its, and writing. Looks like fun.

But first, some confessions.

Confession #1: I only willingly write about reading when it’s something I’m studying, e.g., professional text. I know better. By not writing about my reading, I am accepting less comprehension.

Confession #2:  I write about reading when I must be ready to discuss. I want to become that writer who writes about reading by choice.

Confession #3: I love novels in verse partly because the words pop on the page. The white space affords lots of room for thinking. Bottom line, reading novels in verse is easier. Perhaps writing about reading is more accessible in a less challenging text.

With this in mind, I chose to read and write about Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate. I decided to try two approaches to the work.

First I jotted as I read. Whenever anything hit me as important, I quickly wrote.


At the end of a section, I looked back on my notes. Patterns, questions, and theories came through in a writing reflection. The experience was a controlled one. I wasn’t swept up in the story; I was swept up in the words and images.

Hope is present for Kek; this may be a source of anger for Ganwar – “A man knows when he is defeated.”

Then I set my notebook aside and pulled out post-its. I decided just to read and place post-its in spots with tiny thoughts, placeholders, to collect and sort later.


After reading, I sorted my post-its to come up with categories that leaned toward relationships, characters, ideas and then wrote reflections around each.


The second round of writing about reading allowed for a more holistic reading experience. The post-it placeholders let me get swept up in the story without guilt. I could go back after to sort, prioritize and decide what might be something I could write long about.

Lesson #1: Both approaches resulted in writing about reading. I would choose the latter as a better way to access the text as a reader first. Are there more ways? Absolutely!

Lesson #2: To grow our understandings students and teachers need to be pushed to less comfortable places to grow.

Lesson #3: To teach anything well we must do it. There are no shortcuts.

And this was just day one! Looking forward to four more days.

Celebrating Story

It’s time to Celebrate this Week with Ruth Ayers. This practice helps me notice the little things worth celebrating, the things that might slip past. Read more celebrations (or add your own) here.

celebrate link up

Traveling this week, I saw a lot of things, and I heard stories from people in line, on planes, in restaurants. Some I overheard. Some were offered. All were gifts. All added to my understanding and the richness of being in this world.

On Friday, my daughter and I took a cab to the airport. I climbed in and there at my feet was a football. Immediately, I liked this driver.

“Hey, did someone leave a football?” I asked.

“Oh, that’s my son’s. He wanted to take it to camp. I told him, they’d have all kinda balls at camp! But no, he wanted his ball.”

The way the driver chuckled and shook his head said a lot. This kid was his joy. He went on to talk about his nephew, his other four grown children, his wife. Love and pride seeped from every word.

Then he’d get back to his boy.

“He’s a Katrina baby, a miracle child. Nine years old and wants to do everything. I tell him he can’t do everything. But he tries. Yep, he’s my treadmill; he keeps me going. He saved me.”

And I wonder how many ways this child saved his dad.

Closing in on the airport we pass Xavier University, and we learn. “My daughter goes there. She’s in pharmacy school. It’s one of the top programs in the country. She’s got it all under control. She doesn’t have a choice, can’t get anything past her momma (she’s a school teacher).”

Did I mention how much I like this guy?

He laughs.

Oh yeah, I say, and smile, looking over at my daughter.

“She’s got a nice boyfriend too; does the right things. You know what I mean? Not just the big stuff. The big things are easy. Birthdays and holidays. It’s the small things that matter. Those are the things I watch for.  Those are the things that tell you about a person.”

They certainly do.

This week I celebrate the little things, like telling a story, sharing a little bit of yourself and with that passing on some joy, some wisdom, when you don’t have to.

Finding the Funny

Thanks to a little nudge by Margaret Simon, here I am exploring laughter. this week’s inspiration for  Holly Mueller’s Spiritual Journal Thursday. Laughter is a good place to start. 

 I’m not a natural laughter creator. Seriousness seemed imporant growing up. Laughter felt like it was making fun of the whole importance of life. Serious meant respectiveful, and that was how I thought I was suppose to be. And perhaps deep down, I felt like funny could be making fun of me. Clearly an uncomforatable possibliey.

Funny enough, every person I’ve choosen to spend a serious amount of time with, is one who makes me laugh.

My teaching partner thrives on making others laugh. He’s a natural entertainer and enjoys an audience. I’ve told him that’s why he keeps teaching: he has a captive audience. My husbands loves to make jokes and make fun. It’s one of the many things I love about him.

I chose to spend the majority of my time with kids, as a parent and as a teacher. I can’t imagine not having children in my life. They naturally bring the laughter, the light.

The seriouslness of the world can attempt to shut laughter down. But if we allow it, laughter can find its way back. Serious and important and difficult will always be there. They are the unavoidables.

Laughter breaks them up. Laughter releases and relieves.  Here’s to seeking laughter. Here’s to finding the funny.

Thank you Margaret for the push and Holly for a place to journey. 

Slice of Life: NOLA

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hI stand surrounded. We’re waiting to deplane; released from the tight space we’ve shared for nearly four hours. It’s impossible not to hear conversations. It turns out the tall young men are looking at colleges.

Me too I tell them! Well not me, my daughter. They’re on a recruitment trip. Basketball. Well spoken, High schoolers. It’s exciting. So much hope and spirit, one can’t help but live a little vicariously through these young people.

As we exit, the attendant groans, “It’s hot.”

Hot yes, but later, walking down tree-lined streets of the Garden District, the occasional cool breeze or slight sprinkle gives relief at just the right moment. The pace is slow. Many shops are closed, announcing summer hours.

A smoothie keeps us cool and staves off hunger till La Petit Grocery opens for dinner.  Then Blue Crab Beignets, flounder from the Gulf, Louie Armstrong playing begins our first night in New Orleans.


Walking home along Saint Charles Street, the streets are filling couples and families.

I stop to take a few pictures. Green, green, green and a little sparkle of Mardi Gras beads hanging from the telephone wires.


My daughter turns to me, “It’s so nice to be in a place where you don’t have to worry about a drought.”

Yes, the water is plentiful, and the lushness envelopes us.

Thank you, Anna, Beth, Betsy, Dana, Stacey and Tara for providing Two Writing Teacher’s Tuesday Slice of Life, a place to share our writing lives. Find more slices here.

Celebrate: The Summertime Migration of a Teacher

Happy weekend! It’s time to Celebrate this Week with Ruth Ayers. celebrate link upThis week I celebrate cleaning up my classroom and the pleasures of viewing my year in reverse.

Packing up the books we loved is physical and emotional exercise. Those beautiful books that ended the year are tucked away for the time when the new crop of kiddos will be ready for them. Books stacked in carefully marked boxes will be presents to opened next school year.  Slowly, the classroom library disappears inside and on top of cabinets.

Picture books, potential read alouds, and professional texts I can’t part with I put on the things-to-take-home table.


Pulling out the work we did over the year, I’m pleased and surprised with all we did. I stack up genius hour projects, paper blogs, comic strips about Westward Expansion, reading reflections, annotations on poetry as possible mentor texts.

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A handful of student work (high, medium and not so medium) I add to the take home pile.

Charts are piled high on one table.  I repost each one on the whiteboard, snap a picture, and put it in the recycling bin.

iPads need to be stored and cleaned out. Going through the customized screen savers and camera rolls, I see remnants of the students they were. Silly videos, Canva designs they made, word clouds, the histories of their digital lives in 5th grade. It’s better than a yearbook!

Four boxes sit on the carpet. They contain the reading and writing histories of my incoming students. Running records and writing notebooks are my summer homework. They allow me a very privileged peek at the future.  I see what they love, how they doodle, their “one sunny day” stories, their firsts and lasts, their heart maps, and the sentences they crafted over the year.


These treasures are loaded on a cart outside my classroom.

I close the door, hand over the keys, and roll the cart to my car.

As I leave the parking lot, my classroom village is dismantled, and my car is filled. I celebrate the seasonal shift of a teaching life. The pace and the purpose changes. It’s time to look backward and plan forward.

Thank you, Ruth, for your link up and the joyful, reflective practice of weekly celebration. Read more here.

Slice of Life: What kind of writer am I?

It’s Tuesday, time for Slice of Life with Two Writing Teachers.  Thanks to Anna, Beth, Betsy, Dana, Stacey and Tara for growing and supporting this community of writers. Without this, I would not be asking myself, What kind of writer am I? 

This question has been asked and answered by many slicers.

And, I’ve read your posts thinking, yes, me too!  I need to do this!  Then something would get in the way.  I’m an in-the-moment writer. It’s hard for me to hold ideas for later. I love to write what’s top of mind, right now.

And, I’ve been hesitant to answer because I’m not sure. Perhaps, I’ll give it a try, today knowing that I’m a writer who deals with confusion by writing.

Just saying this makes me worry, what will people think, because I’m a writer who worries. I’m a writer who worries that I keep saying the same thing over and over again, that I have nothing worth saying, that it doesn’t make sense. I’m a writer who says what I think and then worries about it.

I’m a writer who seeks writing as a refuge. In the early morning hours when no one is up, a cup of coffee beside me, or late at night with no one around, no distractions. Part of this need for aloneness is because I’m a writer who wouldn’t want anyone to think I think I’m a writer. It’s just me working. On my computer. On something,  Nevermind, it’s nothing. Just work.

I’m a writer who grew up with a “real” published author, which makes me question myself as a writer.

I’m a writer who has an internal dialogue, a stream of theories, arguments, and counterarguments that surface whenever there is quiet. I’m a writer who wakes up in the middle of the night because I’m writing in my head.  Writing is a place for the voice in my head to come to temporary conclusions and next steps.

I’m a writer who loves the brevity of poetry yet struggles to shorten sentences.

I’m a writer who finds structure, meaning and everything worth keeping in revision. I’m a meandering writer. One that swirls around in places that often end up going nowhere, deleted.

I’m a writer who loves the neatness of a circular structure. I’m a writer who starts in the middle. I’m not sure of the beginning till the end.

What kind of writer am I?  I’m a writer who is looking for my best self in writing with hopes that some of it will find its way into my daily interactions.