DigiLit Sunday: Being Safe

Safe.  That’s the word Margaret shared this morning for Sunday DigiLit thinking.


Being safe is necessary for any classroom. It makes learning possible.  We enter relationships trusting that others will hold us carefully.

But there is another side to safe. When students only do what they think is safe.

When they aren’t willing to take risks, to be themselves. When they only offer safe responses, the minimal.

When they hide in comments — I don’t know, or I agree, or worse complete silence.

When kids think they’re playing it safe, they’re in a dangerous place. They’re in danger of not believing in who they are or who they could be because they won’t take the risk of being different or wrong.

If we want students to feel safe, to be who they are, to have a chance, it’s important to highlight heroes. Those who don’t play it safe. Those who stand-up for what they believe in and don’t hide who they are even when others might think it’s wrong or strange.

It’s important to show our mistakes. To talk about when we didn’t know the answer, when we struggled.

It’s important to make being wrong or different the norm because we make mistakes when we are learning, and being different is expected.

To be safe in our classroom communities we need to be as ok with tears and outbursts and wrong answers as we are with awards and smiles and correct answers.

To be safe in our classrooms, we need to honor students who show acceptance.  Every year I see the kindness in students who instinctively protect classmates.  They make it safe.

As Tara mentioned in her post this morning, “It takes every single soul in a classroom to create a safe learning space for one and for all.” 

Absolutely. Safe is acceptance and kindness. It’s honoring all who share our space. It’s making mistakes as we learn.



Celebrate: Talk

Students talk a lot.  Their minds are on fire with what matters to them, and it has to come out. What someone said at recess about shoes, hair, clothes, the birthday party invitation, the video game, the basketball game, the game of tag.  What parents want. Worries. Middle school.  Talk is their natural state of being.

Talk is a gold mine. My task is to harness it with a purpose worth pursuing in the classroom.

This week I took a close look at book club talk. We’ve had lessons on using talk prompts; we’ve practiced using them; I’ve posted them on charts, but students weren’t using them to dig deeper.

On Tuesday evening, I was looking in my closet, and I found name tags. Hmm. What if students wore these as thought prompts? Imagine: “Hi! my name is — I agree, and I’d like to add on to that… ”

A student stopped by and asked what I was doing. I mentioned my idea. He thought about it; said it might be confusing. So I stuck the label on a card. And asked, what about a game card to play?  He smiled.

The next day, the cards were introduced to club talk. The prompts were no different than the ones on the chart, but they worked. Ideas were growing, and the talk was book centered. Was it because they could be picked up, or was it because they were called game cards? Whatever the reason, they are magical devices.

Talk is a necessary and natural part of argument writing. This week reading clubs considered the debate on lifting the cell phone ban in New York City schools. Each group a created pro and con chart.  Each student had articles and post-its to contribute on either side. They moved and regrouped post-its.

It was a messy and talk-fulled process.

This week I’m celebrating talk as an integral part of learning to read, write and think. Here’s to the mess and the noise of learning.

As always, thank you, Ruth, for your weekly call to celebrate. Read more celebration posts here.

celebrate link up

Poetry Friday: What Brings Poetry

This week, Poetry Friday is hosted by Elizabeth Steinglass.

poetry friday logo

Laura Shovan’s February Found Object Poetry project has provided a daily dose of poetry play.

The image that spoke to me this week was contributed by Matt Forrest Esenwine. At first, my reaction was, what is that?  But further inspection, brings poetry.  Click on the link above to find more poetry inspired by this picture.


A mess. Debris to be cleaned, then

a breath-catching glint

thrown mid swing.

Huddled. Just so.

by divine design.

© 2016, Julieanne Harmatz

Matt Forrest Esenwine

Slice of Life: Just a Word

Last Saturday night we sat outside, under heaters, eating dinner. Talking.

We had an entire conversation about a word.

“The word ‘just’ needs to be eliminated from our language,” my husband proclaimed. “It minimizes what matters and excuses behavior.”

I knew what he meant. He was thinking of all the ways people use the word to lessen their presence, to elude detection.


  • I just forgot.
  • It’s just 20 copies.
  • I’ll be just a minute.

I’ve been thinking about this.

Just can hide. Muffle meaning. Out of subterfuge, embarrassment, or modesty, just can minimize a message.  We have to be careful.

There is a place for just. There are times for its subtlety. Just can soften. Downgrade tension, diminish anxiety. “It’s just to see what we need to work on.” Just can open up a conversation. “I just called to say…” Make a definitive order more palatable. Think of how far “Just do it!” took non-athletes. And what would we do without “This is Just to Say.” 

I’m for noticing. For being alert. For care and understanding of words, for just the right moment.


Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for Slice of Life Tuesdays. Read more slices here.



DigiLit Sunday: Process vs. Product

Margaret Simon’s DigiLit Sunday prompt is to reflect on process vs. product.


I wonder, is our process for the product or for the development of the process itself?

In writing, we produce a tangible product. Something to hold in our hands. But what’s fascinating to me is what happened along the way and what might happen next in the writer.

Margaret talked about how her students created found poems from Wonderopolis. The first go round wasn’t a product that felt right, so students went back to it. Studying their process, looking closely at their product and revising. In the end, the product improved, but the learning accomplished was something that may reach well beyond those poems.

Writing is an outgrowth of a process; that continues until the product is satisfying. The process keeps evolving, reiterating and morphing and the product develops.

And in the end, when we acknowledge the process, could that writer in some way be the product. We writers are works in progress. Continuing to develop through our process and reflecting on the products we create.

The other day, one of my students asked if it was ok to continue to revise a piece of writing that she had written on google docs and published.  Revise writing? That’s like asking if it’s ok to reread a book. I was thrilled. The process is ongoing as is her development as a writer.

Product and process are interdependent. Each pushes the other.



Celebrate Students and Books: How Much Better Can it Get?


celebrate link upThis week, I celebrate students’ understanding of each other and themselves. My students formed their book clubs about a month ago. They found their friends and found books.  Student reading clubs can be complicated. Friends don’t always match up when it comes to books. When I let them choose their reading partners, I knew there would be adjustments. This week students made some.

T,  J,  and L sat on the carpet looking for a book. They picked up Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere. T wanted it. J didn’t. L was quiet.

J said, “I really don’t feel comfortable with this book, Mrs. Harmatz.”

Before I could ask why,  L said, “I can understand why  J doesn’t feel good with this book, there are a lot of difficult words.”

I was so impressed with L’s understanding and kindness.  J was reaching way out of her comfort zone to be with her friends. This week, J decided the book club choice didn’t fit her.  I was so proud of J’s understanding of herself and her courage to do what is best for her.  For the moment, J has stepped away from this club. She still is a part of their read aloud talk, their debate work, their writing discussions. Just not this book.

This week, I celebrate students who are readers, not levels. After leaving her club, J chose Because of Winn Dixie to read on her own. It’s above her benchmarked level. I told her I’d be her partner.  I could support and monitor her. After reading, she came to me with her thoughts and questions. Her takeaway was on track, but what was better were her questions; what she identified as “the trouble”. She knew and noticed where it got hard; where she needed coaching.

This week, I celebrate students’ flexibility. My students love to talk. Quiet can be hard to find in a small classroom with 29 other fifth graders. We have to work at it. To settle. To get comfortable. And sometimes we move to find that space.

This week, A was on the carpet, on his stomach reading his book when M walked up to him, nudged him and whispered in his ear. A got up and walked with his book back to his table. I didn’t say anything but wondered, what was that? So later, I asked.  M responded, “I knew I’d do better on the carpet alone, so I asked him to trade with me.”

This week I celebrate picture books. I closed the One and Only Ivan on page 36 and picked up Last Stop on Market Street.


When I set aside our long and lovely chapter book for picture book consumption, some of my students moaned, “What about Ivan!?”

No worries I told them.
“You can finish up Ivan in your clubs. We have met all the characters; now you can take it over.”

I’m thinking this is the way we will be moving on for a while.

I’ve made this decision for many reasons.

I want my students to…

  • experience the development of all the story elements daily
  • reread (again and again) a whole text with multiple lenses
  • see craft moves readily
  • find the power of words
  • notice what is not present
  • write from the images and ideas the text presents
  • have the opportunity to think deeply and carefully about a text
  • reach beyond the what-is-going-to-happen-next thinking
  • experience as many books as possible in the course of our time together
  • build, build, build literary knowledge

My students are in many places and spaces in their books. I want our read aloud to bleed into their reading lives. The more we can read through a text from beginning to end, the more likely we are to hit just what a student might connect to or need. Working together, working alone, thinking deeper.

This week, I celebrate being with students who are learning how to be readers, how to make choices for themselves, how to work together, how to work alone, and all the books that help them get there.

How much better can it get?

This week, I celebrate with Ruth Ayers and others at her blog. Find other celebrations here.




Poetry Friday: Dipping into the Pool


Hello, Poetry Friday, I’m so glad to be here!

poetry friday logo

Thank you, to Donna at MainelyWrite for hosting today.

I’ve been collecting Laura Shovan’s found objects poetry project images on a google doc.

I’ve always been attracted to “found” objects for poetry.  It’s welcoming, an invitation to join in and discover. Thank you, Laura, for your daily inspiration.

The heart holds curved pools

while geometry refracts

life trapped in silver.

Julieanne Harmatz 2016

Carol Varsalona



Jan Annino Godown 



My thumb and finger would drive the eraser wheel

along the edge of my mother’s desk.

The scalloped metal scraping against my skin,

I pressed and spun a path


pink line


on the wooden surface

along the edge of my mother’s desk

until the blue broom turned

to whisk them


Julieanne Harmatz 2016


Slice of Voxer Life

This summer I found Voxer. And now I can’t imagine life without it.

I’m in a few chats. And I occasionally vox an individual.

One chat is large and filled with educators with a passion for literacy.

The other chat is small and centered on writing and the teaching of writing.

They are always there for me. They fill me up and support me. They are my choir.

Mostly I listen. Sometimes I find myself taking the long way home, or driving around the block a few times just to listen to one more vox.

This morning I found myself sitting in the parking lot at school. Listening, laughing, and then responding. I hate to turn it off.

This evening, I listened. To my good friends all over the country. Talking about their lives, their challenges, their goals. The weather. The traffic. Family get together’s. Books. Things they are thinking. Plans they’re making.

You are my dear, dear friends. My soul sisters. My cousins. My colleagues. I can’t imagine life without you.

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers Blog for Slice of Life Tuesdays. Read more here.

Celebrate: Change

This week the instructional day was shortened due to parent-student conferences. Change in routine can be disruptive and uncomfortable, but it can also create an opportunity for growth.

First, the simple– PE was done at the start, rather than the end of the day. A large part of me hated the idea.  Another part of me said, consider it an experiment. We’d talked about the possibility of exercise before class. Would it be beneficial? Get the blood flowing so to speak.

The cool but sunny weather was perfect for stretching and a 10-minute walk, jog. Afterward, we entered the classroom noticeably quiet. Almost calm. Was it the exercise? Later in the week, I asked students for their thoughts.

There was a fair amount of, “Yes! It’s much better than the afternoon when it’s hot.”

There was a lot of head nodding and “it feels good” comments.

As well as, “Can we still play games on Friday?

Exercise doesn’t come up as one of those strategies for teaching reading and writing. But I know my focus is greatly improved after exercise. This disruption in our long engrained schedule was a good thing. Time for a change.

Now, the complex — During parent conferences, students shared their writing process and product. From what I could determine, this was joyous. Students had outdone themselves with revision. Comments like, “I thought I was done, and then I realized…” warmed my teacher-writer heart. Students would read their work aloud, see a needed change, and on their own, fix it with their parent beside them. Students shared their blog posts. Some boasted of being a top blogger. Students read their reading responses and commented on how they did it.

Parents asked: What can I do to help my child?

That’s easy. Read with them, read their writing, talk to them.

Parents asked: Are they where they should be?

That’s tough. I believe where students should be is on a trajectory of consistent growth. But that’s not what the parent is asking. And, I understand.  It’s every parent’s concern. These kiddos are going off to middle school next year. That’s a scary time. They’re worried. Will they make it?

For a short period in a child’s life, a teacher defines a child’s learning space and has a hand in how they develop as a learner. That’s a very big deal.

Which leads to the most difficult question: Are you (the teacher) doing enough?

I ask myself that question all the time. But do I ask it with the focus on that one child, their child?

Painful questions, but an opportunity to be a better teacher for their child.

This week I celebrate the unexpected growth that can come with change. Read more celebrations here on Ruth Ayres Discover Play Build link up.

celebrate link up




Poetry Friday: Valentine Reflections

poetry friday logoPoetry Friday is being hosted this week by Kimberley Moran at Written Reflections.

Last night my husband told me he’d made a reservation for dinner on Saturday. Usually, the realization that it’s Valentine’s comes too late. Which is never a concern, but this year he remembered.

Caught by the spirit and Poetry Friday, I picked up Ted Kooser’s Valentines. I love this collection. It contains his annual Valentine poems that started in 1986. The first, Pocket Poem, he sent to 50 women friends. Kooser continued the tradition every Valentines to a growing list of women for twenty-two years.

Pocket Poem by Ted Kooser

If this comes creased and creased again and soiled
as if I’d opened it a thousand times
to see if what I’d written here was right,
it’s all because I looked too long for you
to put in your pocket. Midnight says
the little gifts of loneliness come wrapped
by nervous fingers. What I wanted this
to say was that I want to be so close
that when you find it, it is warm from me.


Poetry pushes on the personal and private; the inner workings of what makes us tick.

It forces me to pay attention.

.I Know

Each year passes
and I know
the quiet acceptance, the comfort that presence provides.
I know
the beat, the rhythm, steadfast in the present.
Created over time.
I know
you will be here and there
with me.