SOL16, Day 11: Hoping for Poems


I offer this a slice to share the few thoughts about poetry that have been rattling around my classroom. There isn’t enough. Yet. Thank you to Irene Latham for hosting Poetry Friday on her blog Live Your Poem and to  Two Writing Teachers blog for the eleventh day of the March Slice of Life Challenge. The slices I’m reading are beautiful, provocative and entertaining. What a group of writers lives here.

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Narrative free verse poetry attracts me as a reader.  The white space offers room for the reader to absorb the story. The occasional rhythm and often playful author placement of words allow readers to experience the story.

I’ve found my students revel in verse novels. The words don’t overwhelm; the chapters are short.There’s lots of room to wonder and notice. It gives the struggling reader a release from complex sentence structure and the thoughtful reader time to ponder.

We’ll start Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson next week for read aloud. And as a writer’s gift for April, students will receive a blank book to create a story in verse or a collection of poems. A post on our classroom blog made me realize this couldn’t come soon enough.

a long time ago I was in love with poems. I knew every single kind of poem there was. I would spend all my free time writing poems. I got over it eventually just let me tell you how.

I had just finished another poem when my aunt came up to me and asked me what I was doing. I told her I was writing when my brother came by and threw my papers all over the place. As I chased him through the house my aunt read my poem and told me a poem had to rime.

This post created ripples.

At lunch, I overheard two students collaborating in Google Docs over a poem.

They sat across the room from each other. They go back and forth in their document. Adding and subtracting lines.

J came up to me later saying, “I think we could develop an app for people who are afraid of poetry.”

I asked him to say more. His vision sounded like a version of Mad Libs. I didn’t want to mention it exists. Let him try it out.

The response of teachers and students who commented on her post was inspiring.

Erin offered this:

I discovered last year that I love to write poems, and none of my poems rhyme.  😉 I hope you will try your hand at writing poems again.  I think it takes a talented writer to be able to say so much and evoke strong feelings with so few words.

Wow. You nailed it, Erin.

I’m excited for the what will surface in the next few months. Hoping some will “try their hand at writing poems.”




SOL10, Day 10: Kids and Tech, A Sizable Amount of Unpredictable

I started out the lesson thinking I was ready. Charts made.  Devices charged. I was taking students to the next step in the argument writing process.  We had been slow and methodical. They were ready.

I thought.

After the lesson, I picked up my notes. I wanted to check in with those students who had evidence stated as a reason.

Then I hear it. It sounds like drowning. “Mrs. Harmatz….”

“I can’t get into my Google Doc.”

“L. translated his doc into Spanish, and he can’t figure out how to get it back to English.”

“Mrs. Harmatz, my document isn’t here!”

These are the sounds of my classroom writing with technology.

Some of the problems I work through. Some of them I can’t. I call our tech guy. He explains the problem, but there is no solution for my students now.

I shift the unconnected to reading, assuring them they can write during the reading workshop.

Meanwhile, L. is now working in English and F. has found his document. A. started completely over because she just understood the difference between reasons and evidence and T. is off in his interpretation of the work. I think he’s writing the text of debate.

I collect my thoughts again and move towards my intended conferences.

Tap, tap, tap. “Mrs. Harmatz, I have a stomach ache.”

Out of the corner of my eye I see M. leaving his iPad on the floor to get a mentor text. W. just misses it while fetching a new keyboard.

Technology and children create a sizable amount of unpredictable.

As much as I appreciate the value of the combination, today I wondered about the mix. I know they need to use it. That there is a learning curve. That tools like Google docs improve students’ ability to revise and edit. But on days like this one, I have a moment or two of wishing for the pen and paper.

And then I remember, the translated and missing documents would be permanently missing, and P., working in the corner with the voice activated mode, would not be writing at all.

I finally sit with down to talk about reasons and evidence and tap, tap, tap. I turn, ready to remind students not to interrupt conferences.

“Mrs. Harmatz, K has something to tell you.”

“I figured out how to get into those Google docs you can’t access. You just click on the file folder in the corner.”

“Seriously?!” I say. Then she shows me. “Brilliant! You are brilliant! Tell everyone what you discovered.”

“I can help!” says L.

“Please and thank you,” I say.

Teaching with Tech requires constant adjustment, because of the unexpected.  The problems are different, but the unexpected element remains the same.

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


SOL16 Day 9: The Green Rock Story

This slice grew out of my students’ request for the Green Rock Story. I keep forgetting to tell them, and they keep reminding me.

For most of his rock life, he sat unnoticed. Silent. Typical rock behavior.

Last week, he was put into a box for student writers. Perhaps, the Green Rock would inspire a story.

Before Green Rock was, he was noticed by a boy.

The boy could have thrown the rock. That would have been typical boy behavior. But for some reason, the rock was held and taken in the house. Perhaps because it felt good in his hand. It was smooth and fit just so.

The boy placed the rock on his shelf, where it sat unadorned until one Christmas.

Every Christmas adults looked on as kids opened packages.  Adults cleaned. Kids played. This was typical Christmas behavior. It bothered the boy. Perhaps because he felt it was unfair.

Looking in his room, he noticed the rock. Held it in his hand. It was smooth and fit just so. Painting it all over, took patience.

By dinner, it was dry.

The boy put the Green Rock in a box and gave it to his mom.

Now Green Rock sits on a desk between the pens and the post-its and brings back stories of the boy.

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers Blog for the March Slice of Life Challenge. A place to tell stories, experiment with structure and play with words. A place to share across the miles. Read more slices here.






SOL16 Day 8: Picture Book Superpowers

The other day, M wondered, half-moaned aloud, “Why are we reading all these picture books?” and “When are we going to read chapter books?”

Great question!

D responded before I had a chance, “We are working on easy books so we can learn to think deeper. It’s sort of like a drill.”

Yeah. What he said.

At the beginning of the year, I started TCRWPs 5th Grade Reading Unit on Interpretation of Theme. After bend one, I knew we would need to return to it later in the year. Students weren’t ready. Yet.

Over the past two weeks, we’ve read nothing but picture books with big accessible ideas.

They build on each other in predictable ways and connect in surprising ways.  Every book lights up the room with deep thought and pure pleasure. That’s the beauty of a well-written and illustrated picture book.

Yesterday, we began our study around strands of the TCRWP’s reading progressions.  I had hopes of big kid thinking about picture books would demonstrate what they might do in their middle-grade fiction books.  As D had mentioned, this was the drill.

Each club got a form for note taking.

They looked at their choices.


They chose a book and identified a story element to study.

Character Relationships






Character Traits


Repeating Object

I could have stopped at this point and been thrilled.  They knew what story element drove each story.

They got it.

They talked.


Picked up their club books.

Asked each other, “What story element should we focus on?”

Bam! Zap! Pow!

Picture book super powers!

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for the March Slice of Life Challenge. Reading slices is a joy. Find them here.



SOL16, Day 7: Looking for Batman

I’ve been collecting objects for my student slicers.  Found objects. Things can trigger story ideas. I started this last week, and the kids loved it. They go to the box. Take an item. Set it on their desk and write. They’ve even added a few of their pieces to the collection.

This week, I wanted to add new treasures, so I went looking for a few small toys.

We had plenty. I stored them in plastic boxes kept under a wooden bunk bed.

When our sons moved out, the bunk bed was dismantled, and our daughter moved into the larger space.  It made sense. Still, I remember feeling the finality of it. The room was no longer a boy’s space.

But what happened to those toys?

The Lego pieces, the Batman with the plastic cape that detached, Robin. They would be perfect for my writing box. Those toy-filled bins. Did we store them?

I looked in the garage and found things. Things that were essential at the moment but now are too big or too outdated to use, and too personal to give away.

My middle child’s wiggly skateboard. The elder son’s turntable.


A box of medals, school papers, pictures, albums stacked in the corner.


DVDs, an old softball, a single crutch from an emergency room visit.


No dinosaurs, Legos, or superheroes. Did I give them to someone?  Did I throw them away?

Writing this forced the memory I had forgotten.

The airforce officer at Starbucks. He had two young sons.  They reminded me of my boys. I had the toys in the garage.  I saw these boys they were the perfect age for the toys. I asked if they were interested and went home to get the boxes.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” the father asked.

Of course.  I told him I was glad the toys would have a good home.

I don’t regret it. But, I’m surprised I didn’t save a few superheroes, a T-rex or a Hot Wheels car.

Considering what’s left in the dusty, disorganized garage. The remnants of three kids’ busyness. Their passions, accidents, awards, treasures, school life. These disparate things connect.

I’m glad to have these pieces, but still looking for Batman.

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for the March Slice of Life Challenge. Writing helps me find memories and understandings. Find more slices here.




SOL16, Day 6 and DigiLit Sunday: Techniques

It’s day six in the March Slice of Life challenge. The challenge to write daily requires a little inspiration from time to time. Today it came in this tweet and a quick search.

Techniquenoun – a way of carrying out a particular task, especially the execution or performance of an artistic work or a scientific procedure.

Last summer three colleagues picked up Cynthia Lord’s new book Handful of Stars. Next read, next week?  Sounds like a way a book club might choose a book. But, this book club was a little different. This book was read and “discussed” with colleagues all over the country on a shared Google doc. It was a terrific experience. We did it to write about reading together. We did it to experience what we asked our students to do.
What also came out of this experience was an idea, a possibility. Might students write about reading in this way? Could students in our classrooms connect and read a book together this way?

A few weeks ago I walked up to  H and L  huddled together with their notebooks and a book. They love to work through books side by side. I asked them, “Have you ever gotten to a good part in a book and you’re at home, and you can’t talk? ”

Both started talking about times when this happened. This was it. I asked, “Can I show you something? What if …” and I told them the story of reading Handful of Stars with my friends. Then I showed them how to start a collaboration document.

They began side by side and saw their names pop up on the same document. Squeals of “That’s so cool!”  were noticed by readers around them.  So it started. Readers and writers have found a new way, a new technique to read and write together. Sometimes it happens when they are at home. Sometimes it happens across the room. Sometimes it happens when they’re sitting side by side.

What I’m wondering about is, could it happen with students in other classrooms?

Thanks for the inspiration Margaret! Read more DigiLit Sunday posts here.


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




SOL16, Day 5: Celebrating Writing

Some people have eyes that find stories. They see things.

Much of the time, I operate in plot mode. What-happens-next thinking. That mindset gets me from place to place, but I miss things.

That’s why writing is necessary. To see the stories and understand. To reflect, grow and perhaps instigate some self-improvement.

For my students, writing is in its infant stages. Until this year, writing has existed mostly in structured units of study instruction. That’s a gift. Writers need guiding.  But to live a writer’s life or even come close to it, a writer needs to practice. And I don’t mean independent work time after the mini lesson. I mean independent writing practice. Time and space to germinate. If we don’t allow some time for this in our classrooms, how will students write when there isn’t a mini lesson that precedes it?

I want students to know they can and should write when they leave the classroom. That writing is a part of life. That writing isn’t just for a teacher.

To promote this, the first fifteen minutes of every class period, all students may choose to read or write. This month, some brave students have taken up the SOL classroom challenge. Just like those of us who slice, their experiences vary day to day.

T was reading Vanissa’s post aloud during lunch on Wednesday. You may know Vanissa from Margaret Simon’s classroom. When she finished, she said, “Wow, she’s a good writer.”

Thursday M looked up and said, “Stories are getting harder to find.” I smile and nod. She goes back to writing, knowing her time is limited.

Fifteen minutes isn’t enough time for N. He finishes up at recess. I have to kick him out a few minutes before the bell, so we get a bathroom break.

J discovered the clever posts of Kaiden.  “Look I figured it out, he writes in invisible ink.”

B looks up from his computer on Friday and says, “Hey there’s someone named Elsie, who commented on my post. Cool.”

Friday, D tells me to look for her posts over the weekend.

These six writers represent some of the students who have opened themselves up to the world to tell their stories. In each post, I see a little more of them. Just like I see of my fellow slicers. Some of these students are the ones you’d predict to go for this opportunity. They are the writers. The ones who rise to a challenge. But some are not who you’d expect. For a few students, blogging has been the one place they feel they shine.

This week I celebrate my student writers. Their growth and enthusiasm. If you want a taste of their slices, check here.

This week I celebrate the Slice of Life Classroom Challenge, the other classrooms who are slicing, and the wonderful adults who have commented on my students’ posts.

This week I celebrate the Slice of Life Challenge. A place that promotes writing forcing one to find story, meaning and reason in life. Thank you, Two Writing Teachers and all those who contribute to the slicing experience. Read more slices here.


This week I celebrate writing. Thank you, Ruth, for your weekly call to celebrate the week. Find more celebrations here.

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SOL16, Day 4: Moving On

Last night I went to a banquet.
These events are long.
Always on a school night when I have a million things to do.
I got there,
a little late a chair waiting for me.  Held by long-time parent friends.

Her name was called as were the familiar names that line her current world.
Study and work out buddies, club committee members, longtime classmates, clothing and hair approval friends.

And there were names of former students
The “mom do you remember your student…” names.
I do.
Different from your own child. You loose touch and can only imagine.

Those names move on.

Those names that lined my life years ago
and were dreamed for. Worried for.
Taken home knowing I have a small part in what this person  will become
move on.
I felt the weight of my presence in their moments long ago.

Last night, I watched from a distance. Heard their name, heard their speech.
Felt a bit of pride in the young almost adult on the stage.  They were beaming. Acknowledged.

The ones you held close
move on
not looking back.
The ones you’ve lost sleep over
dreamed for
move on
not looking back.

These celebrations make my heart twist.
you move on
But last night, I joyfully looked back.


Thank you, Two Writing Teacher for the Slice of Life March Challenge. This is day 4 of 31, a Friday. Find other slicers posts here.

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This year on Fridays, I’m attempting to slice a bit of poetry and linking into KidLitosphere’s Poetry Friday. Find this week’s hosted by Linda Baie on her blog Teacher Dance.



SOL16, Day 3: Admiring My Writing Life

Before blogging, I only wrote when I had to, never out of choice.  Writing scared me.  I started blogging as for my students. That gave me reason and a cover.

I stumbled along. Then somehow, I found a living, ever-changing mentor text. The virtual writing workshop at Two Writing Teachers’Slicing Community. Slicers welcomed me. They read my stories and celebrated my daily struggles, hopes, triumphs and failures. Personal and professional. Slicers became my cheerleaders, my mentors, my colleagues, my dear friends. They have stretched me to places I never knew of; places I never thought I had any business going.

My One Little Word grew out of slicing.

Today my OLW is honored by Holly Muller’s Spiritual Thursday link up.

Admire. A perfect word for these communities that admire and support one another in and through writing.

In January, I chose “admire” as my OLW to focus on and celebrate the gems in life. To find the beauty that is too often hidden by traditional expectations.

Finding trouble is easy. Seeing value in an apparent mess takes a special lens. It isn’t easy. Admiring. My lens gets smeared and distorted in the daily grind. I feel the fast-moving current, ready to sweep me away, and I fail to notice the beauty and sparkle bouncing off the river. I don’t see the golden river rocks below. I’m focused on getting across.

Writing makes me stop, notice, and think.Writing makes me take stock. Re-see, revise. Admire the world and life around me. Writing has become my spiritual journey.

Writing still scares me. But when I’m with the people I admire, who see the road I’m on as worthy, I can breathe easier. I can admire.

Writing with dear friends is a communion. Writing with those I admire is a great gift.

Thank you to the beautiful women of Two Writing Teachers Blog and the slicing community. Read more slices here.


And thank you, Holly, for your weekly link up and thinking about my OLW. Find other reflections on their Spiritual Journey here.





SOL16 Day Two: What I Learned at School Today

C. was saving her first slice for March when I walked by. I put her summary from last week on her desk. Walked on and heard, “Ugh, there’s the but.” Her comment had a weary edge to it.

What? Did she mean what I thought? I turned back toward her. “What about but?”

C looked sheepish.

“Did I write but on your paper?” I asked. Then I saw. “Oh, that comment is from N. Not me.” I felt like the kid saying I didn’t do it!

“Oh,” C said. She smiled, and the fight or flight look drained out of her.

N wasn’t there, so I pulled up a chair, and we talked about her classmate’s feedback.

This moment stuck with me.

C felt it, thought it and said it out loud. There it is again, the but. The qualifier that makes her feel less than.

C is a student who is an avid blogger. Funny. Popular.  And, she has a history of “buts”. C has heard a lot of, good job, but…  And with that word, she has been told, again and again, she doesn’t get it.

We teachers can lean into “but”, the deficit, with the best intentions. I know that but could have come from me.

Yesterday, C was a master teacher with a powerful lesson:  When student feedback has been liberally sprinkled with “but” the message received isn’t  “try harder,” it’s “you came up short again.”

The other thing that sticks with me is C’s change in stance. When she found out the “but” didn’t come from me, it didn’t sting. She sat up and relaxed. What an important reminder: The teacher’s words hold immense power. Use them carefully.

Thank you, C. I appreciate your feedback.

Happy March 2nd, Day two of the Slice of Life Challenge.


Thank you, Betsy. Beth, Dana, Deb, Kathleen, Stacey, and Tara for the tremendous writing community you have created and maintain at Two Writing Teachers. Read more slices here.