SOL: Invitations to Discover Diffferent

Yesterday, my daughter asked me to go to yoga.  I thought I want to finish this book. And, I’d have to change. I weighed my thoughts against the invitation and responded, yes.

My second thoughts came on the way, crossing the bridge. Could I do it?   I’d never done yoga outdoors, in a public park.  I’m the kind who prefers a darkened room with quiet music.

We parked overlooking the beach and walked up the hill to the grassy area. It was beautiful. Surrounded by people, yoga mats, blankets. Really? Me? The instructor so far away, the breeze, music blaring from passing-by cars. I was, as they say, way out of my comfort zone.  But I was there. And soon I was breathing in and out. Lifting my heart and hands up and down.

Yesterday I realized I don’t go to places because I think, I can’t, or I don’t fit in. And that makes me wonder.

How quickly we find our group.
Our place. And don’t move from it.
It’s safe.
With our people.
Like us.
A place
of affirmation.

We rarely seek out different. We avoid, ignore. We eliminate, amend. To stay safe. To fit in. To belong. To avoid looking stupid.

We learn how to do this early on. And it makes me wonder, what about all the potential, the wonderful that might be, but isn’t for fear of not fitting in.  Of looking dumb.

Matt de la Pena said it today:

Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 9.06.00 AM

I’m thinking about my most reluctant learners. The ones that don’t do. The ones that act up. The ones that don’t fit.

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Or appreciate anything.

This summer I’m seeking out different and with that a bit of discomfort. To see if I might uncover unknown possibilities. And discover what it’s like to go there. Where I don’t (think), I belong.

Even though I’m not that kind of person, I went to that yoga class. In the park. I breathed in and out. I lifted my heart and hands.  It was different but not so different or so impossible, that I couldn’t see the possibilities I hadn’t considered.

Later this summer, I’m going to write with friends. At a farm. Even though, I’m not that kind of writer. I’ll go. And write. I’ll lift my heart and hands with the hope I’ll see possibilities in me.

To consider these different and uncomfortable places, it takes an invitation. A kind reaching out that opens a path to an intimidating space. One that said you can do this.  Please come. And with the invitation came trust, an understanding of who I am and a promise to be cared for, not left alone to flounder.

Thinking of my students, the ones who struggle to fit into classroom learning, who feel they don’t fit, the invitation should hold these same supports. Trust, understanding of who they are as learners, a promise to be cared for, not left alone to flounder.

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for Slice of Life Tuesdays. A day to write, share and give pieces of our lives. Read more slices here.





Celebrate: Reminders and Other Essentials

I need reminders.

This week I went to the Right Question Institute’s seminar and was reminded of the power of the Question Formulation Technique that teaches kids to make, revise and prioritize questions around any subject matter. I discovered this work a few years ago and used in my classroom. Read about it here and here and here. Watch a few videos with students using the technique here.

Last year I did not use it. Not because last year’s group of students didn’t need it. Not because it took too much time. But because I was overwhelmed with the next new thing. The new (that was good) took over and drove a lot of good out of the class. My fault.

This week I was reminded by Dan Rothstein, Luz Santana and a room full of educators of the power and process of questioning.  My students need this work every year to reflect on ideas. This week I was reminded of something I knew but forgot: to blend new practices with older powerful practices.

This week I was fortunate (thank you #g2great Voxer) to be amongst a group of teachers treated to learning with Trevor Bryan. He took us through the Art of Comprehension Access Lenses. For a look-see at the possibilities of his work check out this link.

I hope, for the sake of students and teachers, his approach to teaching comprehension through artwork is published and shared widely. His tools allow students to “read” artwork with lenses that can be used to read a text and can be used to drive student writing.

Trevor’s access lenses teach students the skill of reading a mood in a painting and finding evidence for that mood by breaking down what appears in the artwork into patterns. Think color, facial expression, spatial relationships. And I’m just scratching the surface of this new tool I will add to my tool box of reading and writing strategies.

The Question Formulation Technique and the Art of Comprehension Access Lenses will bring my students to new understandings. This week I celebrate the brilliance and dedication behind that work.

This week I celebrate the necessity of reminders and working with others. Collaboration is the ingredient that emulsifies the work,

This week I celebrate passionate educators who step up to learn and support each other with energy and enthusiasm. It grows our practice that blooms in our classrooms, every year.

SOL: Library Time

Looking down the aisle marked “essays” I spot a vacant leather chair and small end table.  My eyes wander to the books as I walk down the aisle to my intended seat. I slow down and read author names, titles. I stop. I set down my book bag that weighs enough to signal the fasten seatbelts alarm when placed on the passenger seat. I grab M Train by Patti Smith and read the first line. “It’s not so easy writing about nothing.”  Sigh. I read on to the end of the essay, tuck it under my arm, pick up my bag and turn toward a now occupied chair.

I walk past my intended spot. I pass study rooms and carols, pass rows of living room-like chairs with just-right lighting, all filled.

Finally, off in the distance, I see four leather chairs surrounding a small table, and I claim the one vacant seat and settle. Aside from the occasional quiet whisper or someone walking past, there are no interruptions. Some of my neighbors leave. Others replace them. People of all descriptions pass by.

The library is a busy, quiet place.  Bursting with books, magazines, movies, the internet, all forms of media, it is home to everyone. All of it for the taking, for use. It is a place of peace, comfort, and safety. Of words. Of people. Some stay for long stretches of time, others fill a bag and go. They read newspapers, magazines. They read on phones, tablets, and computers. And of course books.

Usually, I don’t spend a lot of time in the library. I’m a bag filler. But today, inspired by Kari Yates’ post, I came to stay.

I finish one book.

Read three chapters of another.





Find books.

Today, I experienced the gift of reading in the company of others. It’s a powerful thing when everyone around you is deeply engaged in their reading and learning. You can feel it.

And I couldn’t help but think of my students. What have they read since summer started? They had plans, but are they reading?  When the school doors close and the teachers pack up for the summer, do kids, can kids continue reading?  Uncomfortable questions.

It isn’t surprising to find that library programs create life-long learners. Clearly, I need to promote public library use all year long, not just for the summer reading months. The American Library Association’s (ALA) list of library celebrations for 2016-17 looks like a good place to start a plan for next school year.

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for Slice of Life Tuesdays. A day to show up and write! Find more slices here.


Celebrate: Time To Be


I have a mental list:
books to read
pages to write
classes to take
presentations to craft
connections to keep
books to read
planes to catch
closets to organize
a school year to envision
plants to water
hours to sleep
lists to make
books to read

It’s possible.
In the early a.m.
in the bright light
the world comes into focus,
sharp edges and clean lines
and the list of
to do’s

This week
I celebrate
the time
to be.
celebrate link up
Thank you, Ruth for this time and place to
celebrate this week.
Find other celebrations here.

SOL: Reading Remnants

My students’ last day was on Friday, but their presence lingers.

I find post-its. Tracks of their thinking. The remnants of students.

I notice which books are missing. Sets of four have been reduced to three, partnerships to one copy. Graphic novels are missing. I imagine those books on the bedside tables of my students, in their hands before bedtime, when they wake up and maybe before dinner.

I take a pile of books to the office. Henry and Mudge, Magic Tree House, Poppleton, and Amelia Bedelia books. My fifth graders finally cleaned out their bookshelves and looked under their beds. These books represent years of reading at our school and tells me about the hundreds of words they have read before they come to fifth grade.

My students are gone. Off to summer and then middle school lives. But fortunately, their thoughts about reading are with me.

Just before the end of the school year, I along with my Voxer Good to Great friends Donna Donner, Jennifer Snaidecki, Dani Burtsfield, surveyed students about their reading habits.

In my classroom, there were some clear trends:

Students choose books based on their interest not, their reading level.
Students put books back when they found the book wasn’t a good fit.
Two-thirds of the students said having the choice of books helped them grow as a reader.
The majority liked reading with friends.
Most were surprised by the amount of reading they did this year.

The following responses I share with you as highlights. Short answers that show glimpses of my students’ attitudes about reading.

well now if there is something don’t understand I will take my time to understand it and now I don’t rush through the book also I take notes on my wonderings and the big ideas in the book.

what surprised me about my reading this year is that I used to only liked to read fiction books and now I like to read nonfiction and now I read a variety of different books

I am proud of how many books I’ve read this school year I was indeed impressed

I am most proud of when I saw something was coming in the book and got it right

I’m surprised by how interesting the books are.

I learned that some books are REALLY boring, and I learned that you can just get a new book you really like.

What surprised me this year about being a reader was that as I am reading more I grow more fluent.

Responses to what advice would they give to incoming 5th-grade students told a lot about what they thought mattered most.

Choose books wisely don’t just look in the cover look inside

Never rush through books, and don’t read a book you don’t like, and always tell your partner (or club) if you don’t like a book.

Try to read different genres of books that you haven’t tried here and there, but you can stick to the same books you like, even a series. But I wasn’t able to do that so I recommend doing that.

I would say that always write about your reading and don’t pick a book you might not like.

Read everyday and take jots everyday trust me it helps a lot.

Read the back of the books and see if u think u might like it before reading

Writing about reading has been difficult for students. When asked about it, many said they didn’t like it. But in response to the question, does writing about reading help you, the majority said it helped. They don’t like if but it helps. Interesting.

Not really. But it does help me keep track of what happened before if I haven’t read the book in a while.

Yes, Because, it helps me realize how i’m doing as a reader if i’m paying attention or not.

Writing long like a summary helps me sometimes like just realize what happened or an important thing I did not realize

Yes and No because sometimes you have to stop at a point you really like,and it ruins the moment.

Hmmm. They sound like readers.

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for Slice of Life Tuesdays. For providing a space for sharing our thoughts. Read more slices here.






Celebrate: Blooms

A few years ago, a student game me an African violet.  It flowered for a month. Then the blooms fell off.  I tended it on the kitchen counter.

A year passed.

Green leaves grew.

One day an orchid gift replaced it, and the violet was transplanted to my bedroom, next to the glass door.

Years went by, the green leaves grew, and the hope of blossoms was long forgotten. The leaves were thick. Luxurious. There was beauty in the green.

Then one day, out of nowhere, it bloomed.  I had given up. I had accepted the idea that this plant wasn’t  capable.

Shouting to the world with a cluster of white flowers, Here I am! Glad you’re here to see me.

You know where this is going. Those students. We see only a bit of who they are in the ten months we have them. Sometimes they are like the beautifully formed flower. A gift set at your feet. Something to admire and praise. And sometimes no matter how you care for them, you feed, make accommodations for, nurture, they stay the same. Growing in their way. They don’t seem to be capable of flowering the way the benchmarks dictate. You may say to yourself; it’s the food or the water you are giving them. Maybe it’s the light, the pot. But even with all those adjustments, there are still no blooms. No apparent results. The year finishes and you send them on, wishing them well, still looking for hints of a blossom. Then years later, if you’re lucky, when you least expect it they show up at the door, and you look on with amazement at their beauty.

Three former students showed up at my classroom door yesterday. One going into eighth grade, one to high school, one to college. All in full bloom. We talked, I admired, and each walked off giving me a hug, a take care, and “an I love you Mrs. Harmatz.” What gifts.

With those, blooms  I am reminded of the need for patience and faith in who our students can be. We water and feed. If we’re lucky, we see their flowers.

 Thank you, Ruth, for your Celebration This Week link up. Read more celebrations here.

SOL: Gold and Silver Students

The last few days of school are approaching and with them come the awards ceremonies. Every year I am asked to recognize the shining stars in our fifth grade. The academics, the leaders, the good citizens, the hard workers. Those who do school well.

I left school this afternoon, the list prepared, in time to attend my daughter’s senior awards ceremony. All told nearly 200 graduating seniors stood before us. All had astounding GPAs and golden opportunities ahead. These children worked hard, studied for the tests, wrote the essays and got to school on time.

I recognized names. These were gold and silver award winners in elementary school. Those who do school well get the awards, the scholarships, the acceptance letters from colleges, the bright futures.

I don’t deny the value of their hard work or their excellence. They do the right thing the right way.  We look at them and say what a great group of kids. We’re proud and hopeful.

But tonight, I worry. What about those who don’t shine gold or silver?
What needs to be done?
What should I have done?

If only
I had been tougher;
inspired them;
engaged them ;
trained them;
convinced them that hard work matters.

All of those if only’s. This always gets me.

What is the source of the desire to work hard?
How is it acquired, developed, maintained?
Can it be taught?

These questions propel me into pre-summer thinking.

How and why do I work hard?
When do I give up?
What does it take to get me to come back and try again?

When I was young, I worked hard to please. My parents. My teachers. As I grew, that changed. Working hard became a way to get to the world, a world away from the people I started out wanting to please.

I found places I excelled and areas I foundered in. No surprise, I avoided the places of inadequacy and ran toward all the areas I felt I could do. Success bred success. And I developed a belief that I just had to work hard and look long enough and I’d find my gold and silver. This has led to an inexhaustible desire to work hard.

What happens when performance today doesn’t equal gold or silver?
I wonder, how can we find the gold and silver in our students?
Are we showing them pathways to find it?
What can I do?

These questions propel me into summer learning.

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for Tuesday Slice of Life. And thanks to the generosity and wisdom of Slicers who meet here every week. Read more slices here.




Celebrate: Each and Every One

Their self-portraits surround them. They see themselves as they see themselves up on the wall. With those portraits looking down, students generated questions to help them dig into their memories of elementary school life and think about what might be next.Memoir writing involves not the memory but the reflection on it.

Some questioned themselves:

What have I learned?
How have I changed?
How have others changed me?
How will I use what I’ve learned in the future?
What will I miss?
Who will I miss?

Some wanted to talk.

Some asked, “Do we have to talk?” and “Do we have to answer them all?”

Even thought the whole point of the lesson was to find your way to reflect, some kids felt compelled to do the “right” thing,  Funny how kids so quickly fall into the “do we have to” patterns.

Looking at the room, at their faces, it was evident, some just needed space. Others clung to each other to talk and then write.

One sort of wandered the room, with a lost look on his face. I asked him if I could help. He looked at me and said, I don’t know what to say. He was physically stuck. For him, it was a simple, “don’t worry” message. Relax, I told him, you have stories. He eventually found a place to sit and write.

Some surprising things happened.  A writer who started with enthusiasm stopped after about five minutes and said, “This is harder than I thought it would be.”

Yes, I said, it seems anything worth doing isn’t easy. He looked at me. At that moment I thought if he learns anything this year, may it be this. Finally, he said, yeah that’s true.

A group of girls huddling on the carpet called me over and told me, D is crying.

What?!  Apparently, the realization that she would no longer be with her friends left her weepy.

“It’s never going to be the same,” T said accelerating the drama. Soon they were a soggy mess on the carpet.

Outside Taylor Swift music blared to accompany the third-grade dance practice:. “that’s what people sayaaa.. hmm. mmm, that’s what people sayaaaa…”

The girls on the carpet leaned on each other with pillows, writing on their Chromebooks and in their notebooks.

A boy and girl sat side by side humming along, their heads bobbing from side to side writing. “…say’n it’s gonna be alright.”

Next week they will share their memories and their dreams.  And I’m sure they’ll shed a few more tears.

This week I celebrate my students and the privilege it has been to spend a year with them.

Every year is a gift to learn with children. Every kid, every year.

This week I want to thank each and every one.

Thank you, Ruth, for your Celebration link up. Every week this is a place to share and find joy. Find more celebrations here.