Slice of Life: Do Not Read

I picked up his paper post. He had put in a pile with the other practice posts I have students do before they blog. I call it paper blogging. It’s a test run for our Kidblog site.

A post-it covered his paper stating, “Do not read.”

Curious. Compliance mixed with self-preservation?

When he came to class, I asked what he had in mind, re-explaining the purpose of paper posts, reminding him of the social aspects of blogging. “Perhaps this isn’t what you want to share?”

The look on his face said what I thought after I said it. Dumb question. Of course not!

I assured him I didn’t read it and suggested he tape it in his Writer’s Notebook, adding that is the space for things we want to keep private.

He got the tape and secured it inside.

“D,” who sits across from him, was watching. She asked him to pass the tape and placed her paper post in her notebook.

“E” followed suit.

Apparently, three out of six students at this table had written something that was for their eyes only.

Later each shared another piece of writing for the blog. They commented on others and read their comments. Joyfully. The other work tucked away.

Without a doubt, my students love the blog. And, they need their notebooks.

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for Slice of Life Tuesdays. I am grateful for this space to practice what I preach.  Read more posts here.


DigiLit Sunday: Remembering the Notebook


Today I’m joining in with Margaret Simon @ Reflections on the Teche for a DigiLit Sunday link up.

On Monday my students will be invited to our classroom Kidblog site.

They love blogging for many reasons. It’s social; it involves technology. But mostly because it is theirs.

There is no grading associated with the site.
Students can post their units of study work on them as a way to publish, but that is not required.
The only rule in blogging is that they are kind.

I read them; monitor them for appropriateness; showcase examples of excellence; use them to understand my writers; occasionally comment on them. The blog is their space. Students love the space to write. In fact, many don’t see blogging as writing.

Blogging has been a way for my students to find joy in writing.

But, there is a problem. My students are so digitally inclined, once we start blogging, notebooking becomes only a tool for gathering ideas for units of study. Notebooking becomes a must do. Students don’t choose it when the blog is available. The blog becomes their playground, and the notebooks lay fallow.

One could argue the blog has become a digital notebook. Student blogs could contain seeds of ideas. And they do. Still, I don’t believe the notebook can be replaced in a writer’s life.

The notebook is a private space. The blog is quite the opposite.

Tiny, silly, potentially embarrassing ideas won’t show up in a public space. They need to live elsewhere. These ideas need time to grow. In class. They need a little bit of guidance, outside the Writer’s Workshop.

So this year, notebooking is going to be given space. Just like I give myself.

It won’t be a natural thing for kids to do.I’ll have to nurture it. They may need inspiration. So here’s a plan.

The rule.
You write. About anything.

The understanding.
That writing can take many forms. Lists, pictures, poems, whatever is in your mind.

The time.
Mondays after music.
Wednesdays after checking out Wonderopolis.
Fridays after book recommendations.

This year, writers have and use notebooks.And perhaps writing will have a new place to live in students’ minds.


Celebrating the Process

This weekend I packed up my youngest, all of her things and moved her into her dorm.

Emotions have been running high. She’s very vocal.  I try to keep it inside letting her vent.

In bumper to bumper traffic, I think, if I could wave a magic wand and have her there unpacked and settled, I would. I’d put myself at home and her at school. Like tearing off a Bandaid. The pain would be momentary; then all would be ok.

A few minutes down the road, I consciously adjusted myself to think about the journey.

And now I realize this is something I do. Sometimes I choose routes to avoid the process.

Sometimes I do it because of time constraints. The times I use the k-cup in the Keurig rather than grind the beans. I don’t have time. But in that choice, I miss the smell of freshly ground beans. That memory is long ago, buried. As technology has improved, I can have a good cup of coffee in an instant. There are advantages. But with the shortcut, I’ve lost a bit of the pleasure of coffee,  of the process.

And sometimes I choose routes to avoid the potential pain. The times when the thought of stopping by to visit aging parents is just too painful. They don’t need me, right now. And going there can be painful. But there is that process. Of aging. I should be present. Even if it brings me to tears, writing about it, thinking about it, the process must be and I am glad I’m there. If I choose not to be, I hurt people who matter, and I rob myself.

Back in my daughter’s dorm room, the one that looked “like a jail cell” now has a sweet inhabitant that has nested in a peach, gray, and white comforter. Surrounded by hanging lights and pictures of her recent past. She has transplanted herself. I’m there to give it one last proper watering.

Outside, the sun streams through palm trees and gathering clouds. This room, this college is now her home. It will have ups and downs but for now, it’s perfect.

I walk out. The doors of the dorm lock behind me. Only those with a key have access. I walk down the arbor-covered pathway, rolling empty suitcases and a heart full of the process. Happy I didn’t have a magic wand.

This week I celebrate the process. Of being there. Thankful.

Thank you, Ruth, for the celebration link up. A place to celebrate our process. Find other celebrations here.

celebrate link up

Poetry Friday: Skunks and Alleys

It’s Poetry Friday! Thank you, Heidi, @ My Juicy Little Universe for hosting.


The second week of school has come to an end, and for the past two Thursdays, poetry has had the spotlight.

The first week of this work was shaky. Students didn’t see as much as I had hoped. Perhaps I wasn’t doing it right. Then, later during the next week, I heard murmurs of “that’s figurative language” during read aloud. The sound of beautiful words echoed in picture books.

This week, I wanted the perfect poem. One that had many entry points.

Thursday morning students held their copies of  Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem Valentine for Ernest Mann. As I read it aloud, the connection between this poem and our read aloud hit me. I finished and asked, “What do you notice?”

This part is funny the part about ordering tacos.

That’s kinda figurative tacos and poems!

I love the words shiny and spirit.

There’s a story inside this poem. It says, “once”.

It’s about poems and beauty.

The man is serious so he means this. Weird.

He has a different point of view, it’s his perspective.

This line is the one I like: “Nothing was ugly
just because the world said so.”
I had to share my thinking. “Guys, you know this poem reminds me of The Last Stop on Market Street.”
They looked blank at first but then someone said it.”The skunk is the alley!”
Then, ohhh yeahhh echoed around the room.
Ohhh, yeah!




A Slice of Book Buying Blindness

This is a slice of extreme stupidity. A lot of moments could fit this description, but this one is undeniably one of my worst.

I buy books. A lot of books. I feel guilty about it especially when the charges from Amazon come in. But something happened last night that took my breath away.

“What is this charge for $1,750?” my husband asked. “From Amazon Market Place.”

I had no idea. No one item I’ve ever purchase cost that much.

On the phone with Amazon, looking up my purchases, oh, my go…

If you’re familiar with Amazon, there are often many options, ways to buy. New and used books. When I purchased this book, I thought I was choosing the new product labeled $19.95. That’s what was in the box right below the title. It was a bit pricey, but so many had recommended it, I clicked.  I had no idea.

Turns out in the right-hand corner, there’s another box. Same book. Same quality. Different price. $1,750. That was the one I ordered.


Heart stopping.

Impossible. Unbelievable. Undoable?

The woman on the phone from Amazon heard my reaction once I realized what had happened (just imagine) as my husband continued the conversation as to how to rectify my horrific one-click.

I heard her voice, “I assume your wife wants to return the item.”

At this point, I feel like “that person” who buys ridiculous things on late night infomercials.

Ahhh, yes, please!

She tells my husband, an email has been sent from Amazon to the seller, requesting a return label.

Does that mean I can return it?

It’s a beautiful book. But oh my. How could a book be so expensive?  It seemed so innocent, sitting on my bedside table. Especially when it was available for a mere $19.95.

Right now I’m praying to the bookselling gods: please send the return label.

And to my husband: I promise to never one-click again.

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers and all who slice for Tuesday Slice of Life. A place to write and share everything from the sublime to the stupid moments of our lives. Read more slices here.



DigiLit Sunday: Digital Voice

Margaret Simon @ Reflections on the Teche offered the topic of Digital Voice for her Sunday DigiLit Link up.  A first my mind was a blank. CqLKoPIVYAAZCI0.jpg

I was on the way to school, not thinking about this topic, listening to Jan Burkins on Voxer. She was talking about starting the year with a video or voice recorded conference to document how kids (and teachers) grow over the course of the year. Walking to my classroom, it hit me.  Funny how the obvious is hidden.

Voice recording is an easy and unobtrusive way to confer with students. I can do it with a multitude of apps. The simplest one being the voice memo on my iPhone. I just have to have my phone when I sit down in a conference. If you plan to make a habit of voice recording, Evernote has been my friend. I can capture student’s voice and take pictures of their work. I can also add in my thoughts via text.

The beauty of voice recording is that it allows you to listen and look at a student as you listen and then re-listen later. What I heard in the moment and what was actually said is not always the same. For those of you that are trying to up your conferring game (aren’t we all?), voice recording is perfect for documentation and reflection.

At this point, all of my Voxer friends can skip to the end of the post. Those of you who haven’t given it a try, read on.

We use “talk” as a strategy in our classrooms to grow ideas. We need to take this approach to heart. Troublesome worries linger in our minds waiting to become ideas.  Something about the act of talking helps work the ideas out.

Voxer is a voice messaging app. It allows you to record voice messages (text, pictures, and video) and send them to individuals or groups in a designated chat. The messages sit on the recipient’s phone or computer in a stream by time recorded.

I know there are many out there who are shaking their heads, saying no, I can’t take another way to connect. I get it. But. As with all tools, we select ones for particular situations.  Try it with one or two friends, colleagues or family members. It might be a relationship separated by time zones or classrooms. Think of your teaching partner who left your school and is now down the street at another school. The one you used to talk to all the time. That one. (Richard, are you listening?)  Set up a chat with that person. You will be amazed.


Celebrate: Opening Books A-Z

The first week back to school is a puzzle. We’re trying to figure it out. Students and teachers. We come with expectations and hope, misinformation and baggage. A collection of stuff from so many sources. Now we’re here. In this room. All bright and shiny.

Seeing each child is a challenge, always, but especially the first week of school. Who is this person and what can I do to help them find their way, drives the curriculum.

After a few days, a flow of sorts begins and I start to see the pieces of what could be. Some students stand out like neon flashing lights. Others are stealth.

This week I want to celebrate the glimmers and sparkles I’m starting to see as kids open their books.

“A” is shy. Reading is a struggle. But he has a book that holds him. HiLo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth. “A” is the first student to finish a book this week. He stands and shares. I order book two.

“B” had finished I Survived The Battle of Gettysburg and a biography on Lincoln is in his hands. I can hardly contain the fireworks going on in my heart when I ask, “Are you a fan of the Civil War?” He smiles and nods.

“C” asks if I could order the next Stick Dog book.

“D” is reading Shiloh. I sit next to him and ask how’s it going. He starts to tell me the story. I ask, “Is this a book you can’t wait to pick up?” He looks at me. I follow up with, “Is this a book you want to read or is this a book you must read?” He looks at me.  I stop and interrupt the class. “Make sure the book you have in your hands is one you want to read not one you feel you must read.  “D” wanders over to the bookshelves. “E” and “F” follow him.  Sometimes, I tell the class, there will be things you must do. The book you are holding now should be a “want to” book.

“G”, “H”, “I”, “J”, and “K” tell me, when I pick up Each Kindness as our read aloud,  that they LOOOVE that book.

“L” is reading a nonfiction book on animals. Shiloh sits next it. I sit down and ask him about his book. He informs me he just realized there are no characters in this book so he should probably put this book away. I tell him that’s a great realization. But, I add on, readers read fiction and nonfiction. Doing both is ok.

“M” came up to me, book in hand. She pinched a chunk. “I read this much. Today!”

“N”, “O”, “P” and “Q” took pictures of their favorite reads.

“R” asked if I could order the next in the Stick Dog series.

“S” said he felt like he wasn’t in the classroom. He was in the book.

“T” asked if everyone could find their personal reading spot.

“U”  and  “V” are both reading books by Peg Kehert. They plan on trading.

“W”, “X”, “Y,” and “Z” shared their reading on the Grafitti Wall.

We’re looking for book love. For many, we’re there, for others, we’re on our way, and for a few, we’re still looking. Here’s to week one of the journey.

Happy New  Year!

Thank you, Ruth Ayers, for the opportunity to share weekly celebrations. Read others here.






Poetry Friday: Irises



It’s the last day of the first week of school. The bloom of excitement is beginning to wilt with fatigue. Adrenaline no longer feeds the morning and the days are still hot, hot, hot.

Walking into Trader Joe’s, I spied my favorite flower.

a shock of sunlight within violet blue
hearty, unfussy
Van Gogh irises.

collected in a vase
interiors with memories
of field life.

hummingbirds and butterflies
your world until — now
summer’s end grace my desk.

your light
as days grow short and nights cool
goddess of the rainbow.

Thank you to Doraine Bennett at Dori Reads for hosting today’s roundup.

Slice of Life: We’re Ready!

It’s quiet.
Carpet cleaned.
Books organized.
Spiral notebooks stacked.
Projector connected.
Pillows fluffed.

A large Post-it chart leans on the easel.IMG_4142.JPG

Baggies filled
new notebooks
and student selected books.


The walls


Conference table

IMG_4159.jpgSmall spaces
for alone time

are scattered



Devices powered.


We’ve been waiting, all summer, close to bursting with anticipation.
For 32 times 2 fifth graders to enter to learn.

We have high hopes.
to read literature that supports journeys of compassion and understanding.
to provide tools and time to think and write; to write to think.
to find a book to love,
to write their story,
to laugh out loud,
to explore new ideas,
to play with words,
to become a part of a community,
to be our best,
to support another soul.


Tomorrow I start school with a mixture of anxiety and excitement.
The can’t-believe-I-get-to-do-this-work feeling.
I begin by saying thank you.
Thank you, beautiful students, for coming to school today!*

And thank you, Two Writing Teachers for Slice of Life Tuesdays. Read more slices here.


*borrowed from Shana Frazin.




DigiLit Sunday: Craft Moves

Digilit Sunday is hosted by Margaret Simon @ Reflections on the Teche each week. Today, despite the flooding in South Louisana, Margaret finds fun and beautiful craft moves with digital tools.


I meet my new students Tuesday. Crafting our writing digitally is not in next week’s lesson plan. But, noticing and understanding craft is.

Figuring out the meaning and reacting to it is the joy of any media consumption.
Understanding how the author created that experience is next.

Taking cues from a few brilliant friends, I hope to bring the idea of craft, what it is and how the author did it, to the forefront of every reading, viewing and listening experience. The mood created when we consume media could be argued to be the essence of why we consume. That special something that makes the reader care involves craft.

Trevor Bryan’s work with the Art of Comprehension can help students understand mood and meaning. We start by viewing static pictures and then grow our thinking to the more complex and dynamic media. Trevor’s steps to analyze media go something like this:

1. list everything you see
2. summarize/retell
3.determine mood(s)
4. support thinking, find patterns
5 determine big ideas/theme
6. make connections

This process allows students to notice things an author /illustrator does and then link it to the feeling or the mood created by the text. By doing this, subtle craft moves become clearer. Try the six-steps with this picture from Jacqueline Woodson’s Each Kindness illustrated by E.B. Lewis.


Kimberley Moran who is taking the Institute for Writers course on children’s literature shared one her assignments with me. It reminds me of the work Trevor is doing, but it pushes me to write.

1. watch an interaction
2.write everything you see
3.describe what the participants are thinking

I tried it with another picture from Woodson’s book.


The sun shines in the east; things are growing. The girls stand on the blacktop. Two of the four stand close together their hands at their sides. The girl in the light pink dress is the centerpiece. Her hands behind her back, she talks to the side by side girls. The fourth girl stands apart. Her hands behind her back, like our girl at the center. She is a mirror to the girl in the light pink dress, touched by her long shadow.

What do their actions say? How does their stance tell me what they are thinking but not saying? This process separates the external and internal work a writer must move through when crafting a narrative.

Girl in pink stripes: I stand by my friend in green, always. My friend is strong, like me. We don’t need you, girl in the pink dress.
Girl in the hot pink: I wonder. Interesting. Something to watch. I’m not committing.

For extra credit: Compare the two pictures. Notice the positions of the girls. What does the change tell us? Picture books hold amazing craft.

I’m looking forward to beginning our journey next week! We will observe, name, and write about what we notice. Through this work, we will find our craft and create.