SOL16, Day 21: Informal Writing

He asked her to be his Valentine.
Seemingly sweet and innocent. Typical of the age.
A boy a girl.

But this girl wanted nothing to do with it.

Perhaps she didn’t understand, he thought.
So he steeled himself and asked, “Will you be my girlfriend?”

Her response was swift, and she thought clear.
“No,” she said turning on her heel. The force of her pivot lifted her ponytail.

A slap in the face. A gauntlet thrown. 

First came the looks.
Across the room.



Then the Post-its filled with pleas and queries. “Do you still like… Mark Yes or No.”

Notes silently slipped from one side of the room to the other and back again.
Passed from the complicit, ignored by the uninvolved, to the intended. And back again.
Read and responded to between the pages of a book.
All writing tools are enlisted to support the need to communicate,
and digital devices enter the dialog.
Words fly in cyberspace.

A screen lights up.
A shared Google doc with multiple names bounces back and forth.
Red, green, blue lines signal a real-time chat in Writer’s Workshop.
Ah, the joys of technology.

Engaged, enraged, annoyed, unsuspecting authors.

The note is spotted. The screen is seen.
Out of nowhere. An interloper descends and captures the words.


Springtime writing in a Fifth Grade classroom is ever present. It happens in between the lines of reading and writing. The emotions of growing up.

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers Blog for the March Slice of Life Challenge. Thank you for this playground where teacher-writers can play with story. Read more slices here.



SOL16, Day 20 and DigiLit Sunday: Discovery

Discovery is the essence of learning.

In literacy, discoveries can be found on any a page or as you work through a piece of writing. But what if you struggle through a page? What are you discovering?  Or confirming.

Some of my students struggle.

They tell me.

Reading is hard. I don’t like it.

As a teacher of reading this breaks me.

I know they haven’t discovered the love of reading, yet.

Many fine teachers before me have done all they could to help and guide this child. What can I do?

I start by removing some boundaries. I liberalize the definition reading and writing; I give time to read and write what they want.  Then the door opens just a little bit.

When I hear things like:

How did you do that? What does that mean? Why? and What if?

They’ve found it.

These are the natural questions of discovery. But only if students have the ability to find wonders. That requires access and permission to pursue.

For the first 15 minutes of every day, my students have a choice to read or write what they want. There is no prescribed work. They there is no workshop lesson. No unit of study.  It’s their time to be a reader or a writer by choice.  It’s when discovery is open for all.  They read comics, sports magazines, books from home, from their friends. They read on Wonderopolis, Newsela, They write on the blog, in their notebooks. It’s their time to discover. And it’s my time to discover what matters to them. It’s when I see what they choose.

UG5iTwj1q8ICI walk up to B and ask, “What are you reading?”

He shows me the cover.  I knew Andy Griffiths but not this series. “Is it your book?'”

“No, it’s E’s. He introduced us to it.”

I go on to ask him what it’s about and whether or not he thinks we should get it for the class.

He and those around him, the James Patterson junkies, give it a big thumbs up.  I’m thrilled to find another series they can be passionate about.

Later, I hear oohs. I look up to see a group of students gathered around another’s screen. I come over, thinking this is probably a picture of a fast car, an anime character, or who knows. It’s a picture but not what I was thinking.

“It’s my father,” T says. He stares at the screen in semi-shock.  He had googled his dad’s name. Kids have done this in the past, and they are always shocked to find the people they know on the internet. It’s a lesson in digital literacy. But this one is different.  T’s dad died less than a year ago. The  I-can’t-believe-he’s-here statement took on a whole other meaning.

Discovery happens in a literacy classroom at every turn of the page, at every click of a screen. As long as you have access and choice in the process.

Thank you, Margaret, for DigiLit Sunday and the word, discover. When I started this post, I had another idea in mind. But I discovered something else along the way. Read or write about discoveries in digital literacy here.


And thank you, Two Writing Teachers Blog for the Slice of Life March Challenge. Every day I discover something that adds to my teaching and writing life. I can’t possibly send you enough love. Read more slices here.



SOL16, Day 19: Literacy Unleashed

They come at lunch.  They grab the graphic novels. The chrome books. They write. Read. Gossip. Help.

She worked on an acrostic poem. Her friends coached into word selection.

I listen in.

They shelve books. File papers. Charge iPads.

He tells me his worries. How she said something mean. He said something mean back. He feels sorry he said it. We talk. He says he wants to write her. To tell her he’s sorry.

The bell rings. Our official class begins.

I meet with book clubs. They plan their reading for Spring break. Around us, students work independently on their opinion writing.

They grab the old charts to check steps. Pick up mentor texts. Look at their data scattered on the walls. One student asks if she can survey the classroom.  Other students follow suit.

“Do you think there should be zoos?”

“Do you think there should be school uniforms?”

“Do you think there should be tackle football in youth sports?”

“Do you think kids should be able to vote?”

“Do you think PE should be mandatory?”

I teach them the word abstain.

I work with groups on reading.

Yesterday, my students showed me what they could do without too much of me.

All was not perfect. Some took charge. Some languished. All engaged in literacy where they are right now. They were readers and writers. They showed what they could do. Right now.

I celebrate a joyful day of literacy. Untethered, unleashed.


Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for the March Slice of Life Challenge. It is an honor to be a participant. Read more slices here.

celebrate link up

And thank you, Ruth Ayers, for the Celebrate this Week link up. You provide the opportunity to continue to find the joy every day. Read more celebrations here.



SOL16, Day 18: Locomotion

I’m reading Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson to my students. I love this book and this author.

My students love Woodson. They know her from Each Kindness, The Other Side, and ShoWay. A few know Brown Girl Dreaming.

I read and we talk about it; we study the structure and the meaning. It’s an accessible way to discuss craft, to notice small things a writer does.

Yesterday, we read the poem that describes how the central character, Lonnie Collins Motion AKA LoCoMotion, got his name. Lyrics from the song are in the poem.  I read it this part and hear the song.  But my students have no context.

So I share.

They giggled.

But then they got serious. “Is this during the sixties?”

“Was there segregation?”

They’re  noticing. Starting to name not just what’s happening but how Woodson puts her words together on a page. And what words are standing out as important. Reading a verse closely and finding a line or two that stands out to them.

I ask, “What’s the verse name? Where is it located?”

“Verse?” They say.

“That’s a poem. It’s like a chapter in a novel in verse,” I say.

“It’s in the last, what do you call it?” T says.

“Stanza,” I say.

“Oh, stanza.”

They are learning poetry. And loving Locomotion.

I found this audio interview of Woodson from the Poetry Foundation made after she was named the 2014 Young People’s Poet Laureate.  She reads several poems from Brown Girl Dreaming, and from Locomotion. If you haven’t heard this, it’s well worth the listen.

After my students hear this, they’ll love her all the more.

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for the Slice of Life March Challenge. Read more slices here.


And thank you to Robyn Hood Black for hosting Poetry Friday at Life on the Deckle Edge.

poetry friday logo


SOL16, Day 17: It sat alone, but not unloved

Last year, I had a student who was obsessed with Cynthia Lord.

At NCTE, I stood in line for Lord’s signature.

When I got home, I shared Rules and the autograph with the class.

Of course, my fellow fangirl asked to borrow the book and of course, I said yes. I’m sure I told her to give it special care, and I know she promised to do so.

Days later I found the book deserted on a picnic table. The pages clung to each other, swollen with water. The signed page bled. I wanted to cry.  The apparent negligence attacked not just the thing but the idea of it.

I sat the book out to dry over the weekend. Perhaps it would come back to life.

The next week I showed her. The cover could hardly contain the curled pages. She denied leaving it outside.  I wish I could have said it was ok. But, I told her it made me sad to see it ruined. It was special. She agreed.  And that was that.

I’m not a person who gets too attached to things, and I had forgotten about this story until last Thursday.

Going home, I rounded the corner and saw a beautiful new book abandoned on a bench.

A rain storm was predicted for the next day.

I picked up the book and looked inside. Two first names were scrawled in gold ink. A heart punctuated their shared last name.

I took the book home and imagined.


She sat reading.  Her brother ran over, threw off his unneeded jacket, and looked over her shoulder. She giggled. He sat down and leaned in closer.

“Let’s play!” screamed her friend.

She set the book down and ran to the game.

The whistle blew.

The book sat. Alone, but not unloved.


The next day I delivered the book to the office. They had no problem finding the owner.   Smart kiddo, the last name got the book back to her.

Many things call a child. A playground game, a friend, a teacher, a parent. Distract them from other important and loved things.

I am grateful to this reader. Her actions helped me remember and understand.

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers Blog for the March Slice of Life Challenge. Every day is a gift of reading and writing. Read more slices here.



SOL16, Day 16: Noticing Matters

I walked past his desk. He looked at me and said, “This is great, but won’t this put a lot of pressure on you, Mrs. Harmatz?”

“It’s no problem. But thank you for saying that. It’s kind to notice and say something.”

What I had promised was going to take me time. Everyday. He was right; it would put a little extra pressure on me. But, that’s what I do.

Teachers do things all the time for students.

Kids are typically caught up in their ownness. They don’t seem to notice. That’s normal.  I am willing to bet most kids notice what we do, but they rarely say anything. Yesterday K did both. Whoa. I guess it mattered. 

After school, it was quiet; the sky was getting dark. A few more things before I go.

I sat down. Collated, organized, and got each student’s file ready. Set them on their desks. Made sure every table had pens and post-its, checked the charges on the Chromebooks, and turned off the lights.

Walking down the hall, I remember K’s words. He was right. It took some time. It put a little extra pressure on me. And while I would have done it without the comment, tonight I knew it was appreciated.

The power of a few words.

It was a great gift; I will remember.

Thank you, K.

And thank you, Two Writing Teachers Blog. The daily March Slice of Life Challenge has made me more aware. I am noticing. That’s what writing does. Read more slices here.





SOL16, Day 15: Morning Memories

This morning a smell took me back.


with a squishy marbleized mat on the kitchen floor,

Dutch doors split

corralling us, allowing salty air.


This morning a smell took me back.

Sea & Ski.

Chinese Checkers.

Wooden docks.

Brick steps.


This morning a smell took me back.

Worn towel

next to Daddy’s.

Straw hat on, he grabs my brother’s hand

step, step at the water’s edge.


This morning a smell took me back.

Sidewalks frame

the sea wall

that holds high street lights

and evening sand that cling to my feet.


This morning a smell took me back.

Ferry rides.

Ferris wheels.

Cotton candy.

Bumper cars.


This morning a smell took me back.

Packed tight

alleys and telephone poles


the sides of the station wagon.


This morning that smell took me back 

Foggy beginnings,

quiet evenings


Magical dribble castles washed away.


Every summer, my parents would rent a beach house. The kids were allowed to run free in this island town. Unbelievable simple and sweet times. This morning, triggered by the smell of my shampoo, those memories came back.

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers Blog for the March Slice of Life Challenge to write daily. Writing forces me to notice and remember details that make up my past and present. Read more slices here.



SOL16, Day 14: What Motivates

Incentives are an interesting thing. What gets us going and doing. What motivates.

Contests, prizes for completion of something mundane, tedious, or difficult motivates some. The extrinsic stuff to get it done. I never respond to those kinds of incentives. Not because I’m virtuous.  When I don’t value it, I ignore, procrastinate, I forget.

That’s just me. But the rest of the world isn’t necessarily like me. And I probably wasn’t always that way. There was a time when a little acknowledgment or prize mattered and got me to do something.

I have to remember that.

I resist giving prizes. I have this issue with external reward systems. The majority can’t win, and the winners are the usual suspects: those that always do things right and get awards.

This year I decided to offer prizes for participation in the Slice of Life Classroom Challenge. In the past, I felt like it wasn’t fair for those who didn’t have access. But this year, all have the opportunity to blog every day. In school.

This year, I have more posting than ever before. Is that due to the prizes or the access? .

The other day,  W asked me, “Am I one of the top bloggers?”

I told her yes, in fact, she was.

“Good! I really want that prize.”

A prize (I don’t even know what it will be) motivated her to get on the blog every day and write. She stays in at recess. She talks about what her writing is making her realize; about how it’s hard to write every day, but somehow it happens; how it’s so cool to get comments from people all over the country. All those writing experiences I found on my blogging journey, she is finding on hers. I’m surprised the prize motivated her.

Would W have attempted the challenge without the prize?  Is that just an added benefit?  I’m not sure. I’ll have to ask.

Thank you, Two Writing Teacher Blog for the March Slice of Life Challenge. To be in the presence of so many writers is prizeworthy. Read more slices here.11454297503_e27946e4ff_h

SOL16 Day 13, DigiLit Sunday: Transitions

Margaret Simon’s DigiLit Sunday’s link up this week is around the idea of transition. Having an idea or topic to consider is a nice way to get thoughts going.


When I think of transitions, I think of space in between. Between words and ideas, instruction and learning.  We want it to be smooth, efficient. But honestly, change is difficult. It’s unrealistic to not to expect trouble and bumps in the road. Transitions aren’t easy.

My students are transitioning from elementary to middle school beings. Whether they want it or not, the process is happening.  It’s confusing, disruptive, exciting and scary all at the same time.

Last week, D closed her Chromebook, pulled her Reader’s Notebook out of her desk, put her club book on her desk, and came to the carpet. She waited with ten other students who had just done the same thing. They did it because I had called them to Reader’s Workshop. They know how it goes.

I looked at the ten on the carpet and said, “You will all be very successful in middle school.”

They sat up a little straighter and smiled.

For those not on the carpet, transitions are tough. Taking their eyes off the screen can be impossible. It can hold them through recess bells, ice cream parties, and best friends leaning in. And that’s a worry. I worry about their ability to transition out of that space.

And it’s not just devices.  Some students are in their books. K is in the corner. Reading his book. K is always in the corner reading his book. E is on the other side of the room, head down, on the edge of the desk, book in his lap. M and D try to sneak books into every part of class. These kids would rather read that do anything else.

A big part of me wants to let them linger where they are. How can I be upset about a kid who would rather read or finish a blog post? I love it. I’d let them do it all day if I could. But, school (and life) demand more. We all have to be able to put down the book and do the other work. Yep. Sorry guys.

Students need to develop the muscles required to transition from direct instruction to non-digital or digital learning spaces and back again. We need to learn what works and how it works. And what works varies based on the task and kid at hand.

Yes, it is March, and we should have this down. A third of these kiddos get it. They transition well. For the others change is difficult. They need to be pulled out of their devices and their books to hear where we’re going next.

We learn how together. The work is new and old. I suppose we’re always in transition.

It’s confusing, disruptive, exciting and scary all at the same time.

Transitions and how we handle them can make or break us. They are so much more than space in between.

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers blog for the March Slice of Life Challenge. Read more slices here.



SOL16, Day 12: Celebrating a Storm

I’m celebrating rain. We don’t get much of it. I suppose that’s why it can overwhelm us. We just don’t know how to handle it.

celebrate link up

Friday skies were blue. We entered the classroom, closing the door on warm sunshine.

Mid-morning, still clear skies. But lurking, just behind the building were clouds.

By lunch, grey had covered the blue, and wind-pushed leaves gathered at my classroom door. Still, kids wanted the outside.  They left ready for play.

Drops brought everyone back.

I watched. Outside, the rain was gentle. Inside, the giggles and games exploded on the carpet.

Soon, the storm inside quieted.  The errant mancala stone, checker, Jenga block and Apples to Apples card were picked up and returned to the big game box, stored by the sink.

The students found their calm and returned to the business of writing and reading.

I inhaled, grateful for the time to finish up what we had started before lunch.

Then it hit. The rain came crashing down. Every kid was out of their seat at the windows.

Many needed to go to the bathroom. A group noticed the ceiling tiles, claiming there was a leak; perhaps the ceiling was going to cave in. I overheard talk of not wanting to die in the classroom.

Seriously, it had been five minutes of heavy rain. I reassured them there was no leak; the ceiling tiles have always looked that way, and they were safe.

The storm lessened, and relative calm returned.

Today the sun is shining. Gone is the memory of the storm. No wonder they thought the world was coming to an end!


Thank you to Ruth Ayers, for Celebrate This Week and to  Two Writing Teachers blog for the twelveth day of the March Slice of Life Challenge.  Your blogs have nurtured my writing life. Find more celebrations and slices here and here.