Slice of Life: What I Can Do

These days I spend a significant amount of time taking in information.

Delivered through the lens of the moment, the news is prepared and served up for me to consume. It sits in my stomach. Heavy. And that sense of needing to do something wrestles with the what can I do emotions.

The events of this weekend filtered through stories I grew up with. The stories of Ellis Island, of garment workers, of Midwestern farmers, of veterans of World Wars, of survivors of depressions and pogroms, of second language learners, of first to go to college public education students. My generation has been the beneficiaries of their hard work, resilience, and perseverance.

When I visited my parents this weekend, CNN is on, the New Yorker, The Economist, and the local papers are piled up next to their reading chairs. Watching the latest breaking news, reflecting on the headlines with them, I feel like my generation, the recipients of so much opportunity, have let them down. They risked their lives for human rights, for my rights. It breaks my heart to have them see what we’ve come to.

For them, for my kids, for my kids’ kids, I protest. It is my obligation. To take action. Any way I can. To pass out leaflets, to call my representatives, and cry occasionally. And to teach. Every. Day.

Educating people to read, to compare different sources, to recognize reliable sources, to find evidence, to ask questions, to put it all together, and to think is what I can do.
Every. Day.

Each action lifts us up.

I’ve listed a few resources I’ve found helpful.

Pernille Ripp’s resources to teach the refugee ban.
Kimberley Moran’s resources on human migration.
Teaching Tolerance’s guide for educators of  immigrant and refugee children
How to contact your elected officials.

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

Celebrate: A Teaching Life

This week, Jack* told me, “I’m writing a book.”

Every year, at least one student becomes a writer of books. Independently.

“Can I show you?” he asks.  I’d love to sit and read or listen to his story, but 31 other students are distracting me. The day’s work is distracting me. So I tell him, “Yes, I want to see it…but not now. Remind me later.”

The day goes on. As I confer with another student, he slips his notebook under my papers. Looks at me and whispers, “when you get a chance.”  I smile at him and go back to my small group.

The day continues. Papers pile up. Lessons, conferences. The notebook is underneath everything.

Before I know it, the bell to go home rings. And there is John*. “Did you read it?”

I feel terrible. No.

“It’s ok. Let-me-read-it-to-you now!”

He finishes chapter five and tells me his plans for the rest of the book. But there is a problem he tells me. “I need a writing group.” Before I have a chance to think, he adds, “What if we have a writing club at recess?” He is on fire. I couldn’t have possibly planned such a great idea.

This week I celebrate the inspiration of students that seems to come out when and where you least expect it.

Jack’s running in his own direction. Which isn’t always where the class happens to be. That is his and my challenge to reconcile. We live in a community with lots of individual flames. Expecting them to all be on at the same intensity at the same time is not likely. Some can adjust to the group, others like Jack, can’t always. He might be talking when he shouldn’t be. Reading when he should be writing. Writing when he should be reading. But always excited about what he is doing.

This week I celebrate my students who find what they’re passionate about and persist in the adventure.

This week I was asked where I saw myself in five years.
Without hesitation, I answered.
Teaching kids or figuring out how to teach kids.
Confirming this, saying it out loud, lifted me up.
There’s no doubt.
I’m doing exactly what I want to do now and in the future.

Knowing this is a reason to celebrate.

This week the rain stopped. Leaving behind needed water and snow.
This week I celebrate midday warmth, blue skies, running and playing outside, and all that is going on inside.

Find other celebrations at Ruth Ayers Writes.

celebrate link up

Poetry Friday: Sanctuary

In my classroom, we study words in context. Looking for meaning. This Thursday, the word sanctuary came up in an article on elephants.  Students were unsure.  We looked carefully:

The park in Malawi offers a large fenced-in sanctuary. The elephants being moved there are safe from poachers who want to kill them for their ivory tusks.

It took time. Some thinking.  Students put the pieces together and got it.  A sanctuary is a safe place that offers protection from danger.

I did not connect the word to anything other than our classroom effort to understand.


It took reading this book of poetry written by Jorge Argueta with pictures by Alfonso Ruano.

It took reading this poem-

Santo Toribio

Santo Toribio
saint of the immigrant,
Show us the way.
Don’t let us fall
into the hands of the migra.
and never in the hand of the traffickers,
or worse,  the minutemen.
You who are the good coyote,
protect us, lead us.
Deliver us from all evil. Amen.

Studying this picture.

Reading this poem:

We Are Like the Clouds

We are like the clouds.
We are like the wind.
We are like the butterflies.
We are like the rivers.
We are like the ocean.

For it to sink in. To get it. I am just like my students sometimes. I need to take the time to read and think. Before I put it all together.

I am proud of my city.
Holding on.
Standing up.
Providing sanctuary.

This – we – is the story of our people
who flee evil in hope.
City of the Angels:
May – we – protect and keep you. Amen.


Thank you, Carol, for hosting Poetry Friday!

Read more at her blog Beyond Literacy Link.








Adventures in Informational Research Writing

Magic happens when students choose what they want to learn.

That’s what I saw today in my classroom.

My students have been on a quest to reach beyond the typical research topic. And when we reach beyond the typical we reach to uncharted territories. Places where we might not understand. Where it might get confusing. Places where we will have to turn around and start over again.

I started students out by thinking about a topic that met certain criteria.
First, it had to be something they wanted to learn about. And secondly, it had to be something student needed to learn. This second test was necessary to move my fifth graders away from the “all about” type of informational writing towards informational research writing.

The nudge towards learning got many to dolphins and endangered animals. One student boldly chose politics. That was good. But could it get better? To give them more food for thought, I showed students Jessica Lifshitz’s beautifully crafted slide presentation on that shared images that lead us to think about problems we want to learn more about.

From that exposure, their ideas moved from butterflies to Black Lives Matter, girls educational opportunities around the world, and war. They were thrilled. Groups formed. But. Wait. We have to think about how to study these bold, big topics.

To get them to think and to test their issue, I asked them to gather and write down as many questions as they could about the topic.

I coached in with question starters such as who, what, when, and how.

They were on fire.Personalities of the groups reflected the topics.

The girl’s education group sat around their table. Notebooks open. Pens ready. Each girl politely sharing their thinking as others listened attentively, jotting notes.

The Black Lives Matter group in the corner. All talking simultaneously. Chanting and fist pumping.

The bottle flipping group, a rag-tag bunch of students, worked diligently to come up with questions about around their favorite activity.

I was pleased. But this morning, when the research was to begin, I was worried.  It felt sticky before we even started.  Perhaps I should have set limits. Given specific choices. What the heck will the group researching war do?

For the day’s lesson, I shared my topic: water. Pretty big. Kinda like war. I started by Googling my question:

Screen Shot 2017-01-25 at 9.16.14 PM.png

We talked about reliable websites: .org, .com, “reliable” news organizations. We scrolled down the page and considered what might be the best choice to look at first.

The National Geographic site sounded like one that was trustworthy and familiar, so I clicked and found this concept:.Screen Shot 2017-01-25 at 9.22.20 PM.png

That led us to investigate another site, where we found this:

Screen Shot 2017-01-25 at 9.24.29 PM.png

That idea focused me from the big idea of water to the topic of unsafe drinking water.

I hoped this whole group exploration would help students dig into their own topics and focus in on a do-able research idea.

Off they went with notebooks and lots of energy.

The Black Lives Matter group had diminished in size from a group of ten to six, partnered up and talking. There were lots of ideas and some tension. The “r-word” came up.  And questions: What started the movement? Where is it now?  The once vocal group were quiet and intent.

Midway through the workshop, Jake* approached me and said, “I really don’t understand this issue. Can I change my topic?”

What a great discovery.  I told him, that’s exactly what you need to do. And I shared his decision with the class. Perfect student-made mid-workshop interruption.

After that, Elise* in the Girls in Education group asked me, “Can I switch topics?”


They were self-selecting based on what fit their abilities and interests.

I walked over to Jake*. “What topic are you looking into?”

“Human rights.”  He looked up from his Chromebook and added, “You know what? Human rights issues exist outside of America.”

Jake* may run into another snag in his understanding and others like Elise* are choosing topics like hummingbirds and jaguars. But that is fine. Jake* has learned something tremendous.  He’s the kind of kid who won’t forget it, no matter what his end product looks like.

This is why I love informational research. This is why choice matters. This is why I love teaching.

Slice of Life: Who We Are

We stood in the crowd on 6th Street between Olive and Grand. Packed. We could see in the distance, the mirrored building of the jewelry center that faced Pershing Square. Every now and then a chant would ripple through the crowd.

The time to march came and went.  We stood. Talked. Cheered. Laughed. Talked some more. We were a group of fifteen in a sea of thousands. Moms and kids. Surrounded by other moms, dads, grandparents, kids, babies in carriers. People who get cranky waiting for a light to change, or for a line to move. But we stood. Unconcerned. Happy to be there.

After who knows how long, the crowd in front of us faced us and started pointing back toward Grand Avenue chanting, “Move back, move back.” The people behind became the people in front of us, and we moved away from the planned route on an alternative path to City Hall.  We walked in a sea of people, holding signs, paced with a regular drum beat.


When we arrived at City Hall, the mainstage speakers were gone, but the masses remained. Hope and resilience filled the streets of Los Angeles. Kindness, compassion, and acceptance made difficult bottlenecks surmountable.


Going home, the Red Line train offered standing room only. A seated passenger looked up and said they had caught the train going north and had claimed their seats once the train turned southbound, “We had to go back to go forward.”  A recurring theme for the day.

The next four years will present much more than crowded streets, but I believe the spirit that filled downtown Los Angeles and cities all over the US on Saturday will prevail. Being there was a reminder of who we are, who we come from, what we stand for, and what we refuse to relinquish.


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

Poetry Friday: A Poem for Peter

Welcome to Poetry Friday hosted at Violet Nesdoly Poems.


If you teach middle-grade readers or treasure the book A Snowy Day, you will love this tribute poem.

 A Poem for Peter, by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Lou Fancher and Steve Johnson tells the story of Ezra Jack Keats and how he became the beloved children’s author of A Snowy Day. Told as a “collage poem,” it layers bits of his story like a tapestry with Peter, the boy in the red snowsuit. The story of Jack and Peter are woven together in verse and illustration. Keats’ immigrant story and the structure of this verse narrative is a worthy study for readers and writers.

There are so many pages that took my breath away.

But when it snowed,
oh when it snowed!
Nature’s glittery hand
painted the world’s walls a brighter shade.

Snow made opportunity and equality
seem right around the corner.
Because, you see, Snow is nature’s we-all blanket.
When Snow spreads her sheet, we-all glisten.
When Snow paints the streets, we all see her beauty.

Snow doesn’t know who’s needy or dirty
or greedy or nice.
Snow doesn’t choose where to fall.
Snow doesn’t pick a wealthy man’s doorstep
over a poor lady’s stoop.
That’s snow’s magic.

You can listen to NPR’s story on A Poem fo Peter here:

DigiLit Sunday: Real vs. Fake News

When I was in fifth grade, I wrote two research reports: one on Abraham Lincoln and one on the State Mississippi. My research involved several volumes of the World Book encyclopedia. Many have this memory. It was limited research and borderline plagiarism. Over time I learned and grew.

My fifth-grade students are starting research articles.  They have chosen their topics and have questions. Now they want to grab a device. That’s their encyclopedia. In some ways, it’s better than my World Book experience in that it offers the opportunity to look at multiple sources.  But in other significant ways, the downside is the reliability or credibility of the information they retrieve.

The sheer volume of information is overwhelming. What’s a young reader/researcher to do?  I’d rather my students have one reliable source over multiple bad ones. In spite of my reservations, I can not disregard real, fake or somewhere-in-between information is available and being used. Fortunately, there are simple things we can teach kids. Kevin Hodgson’s slide show details useful and straightforward ways for kids to be on the look out for fake news red flags.

The critical part of the lessons in real versus fake news is not how to fact check but why we need to test the reliability of our sources. Misrepresenting the facts to get people to think a certain way or do a certain thing is nothing new. Our president-elect’s slippery use of facts and approach to the media has just made us pay attention to something that has been and will always be. We must be critical consumers of information.

Screen Shot 2017-01-15 at 7.05.39 AM.png

In the best of situations, how the writer or editor sees the news, creates a bias. Fake versus real is making headlines now, and hopefully changing the way we teach and consume the information we are fed.

Read more on this topic on Margaret Simon’s blog Reflection on the Teche.





Celebrating Being Here

The first week back after a long holiday break is exhausting. Friday night I’m finding the same problems I’ve found for years anew. Teaching is a humbling career. I know I’ll never master the work. Still (and perhaps because of this), I’m glad I get to be here.

Inspired by Linda Baie’s post, my list poem celebrates moments spent in a messy, filled-to-the-brim classroom.

A list of goodness

  1. Smiling good mornings
  2. Hugging missed friends
  3. Returning to routines
  4. Opening a new (crack) book
  5. Deafening quiet of reading
  6. Caring arm around a grieving grandson
  7. Watching rain sheet down
  8. Disagreeing turn to debating
  9. High-fiving hard-won success
  10. Breaking-cloud sun
  11. Running (finally) on the playground
  12. Making sure he’s okay
  13. Discovering because of classmate’s idea
  14. Forgiving an unintended hurt
  15. Accepting it will never be done
  16. Tending to what matters most right now

Join in and celebrate the week with Ruth Ayers on her blog Discover, Play, Build.

celebrate link up


Poetry Friday: Marilyn Singer’s In My Hand

The business of school is back. Lots to do with my fifth graders.
Even with the busy, crazy, rainy days, a predictable schedule helps.
Predictable means poetry on Thursday.

This Poetry Thursday I planned to take them a step beyond noticing, naming, and connecting. A tiny step toward writing and playing with words.

falling-down-the-page.jpgturned to a favorite: Georgia Heard’s Falling Down the Page.  I wanted a poem that was straightforward in meaning and replicable in structure.

Marilyn Singer’s In My Hand seemed just right. The list of things that one might hold pulls each child to the page. Then with a closer look, the rhyme is exposed and the clever use of verbs. All things kids love to do. This poem invites. You can’t help but want to play with nouns and verbs.

In My Hand

I like to hold in my hand
a baseball,
a shell,
a fistful of sand,
a feather,
a letter,
a red rubber band.
Things that tickle,
Things that trickle.
Things to snap and toss and fold
or just hold.

I collected my students’ poetry notebooks.
to lift their lines and the things they hold dear.

In Their Hands
by Room 5

The things we put in our hands say a lot.
They reflect current crazes and
things loved for ages.
a paint brush
a gemstone
a puppy
a phone
a fistful of orbeez
a stress ball
a baby
a chocolate ice cream cone.
a basketball
a ninja star
a green glob of slime
a lizard
a tech deck
a bookmark that keeps time
Things to squish and to squeeze.
Things that drip, lick, and coo.
Things to play with, to keep you dry, and protect you.
Things that bounce.
Things that move
Things that can set a mood
Things to paint from the heart.
Things that can soothe
Things that are made only for you,
but it’s a beautiful world so share it too.


Poetry Friday is hosted by Keri Collins at Keri Recommends.





Slice of Life: Valuing Soft Skills

The rain had just let up.
Skies still threatened.
Outside was off limits.
The first day back, after three weeks without their friends, you can imagine the crazy.
After settling, a little, I asked students if they noticed any changes in the room.

“Ah… Yeah… Like a lot.”

Four bookcases faced them filled with new (to them) books. I love the first day of a new library. The look on kids faces is priceless. They just want to touch those books.

I took them on a tour of the library telling them, “We’re not reading club books, yet. First, we have to brush up on our book club skills.”

“Oh, yeah you mean we have to work on taking notes and meeting our reading goals,”  I heard Trevor* say.

Actually, that wasn’t what I had in mind.

I find my students struggle with skills that have less to do with reading and more to do with communicating. They have ideas, but growing them with others isn’t easy or natural. Reading in clubs might sound like an excellent way to make reading social, but it’s often more about the social and not about the book. When that happens, and it does,  it’s because students aren’t sure how to do the complicated dance of listening, contributing, and collaborating.

Inspired by Jessica Lifshitz’s excellent post you can find here, and the gift of new picture books, I blogged about here, I decided to take students on a journey to work those communication skills in a mock Caldecott mini unit.

The goal of our unit is two-fold:
1. honing the communication skills necessary to be a successful book club
2. using those skills to identify and rate picture books based on specified criteria

We started today, focused on number 1.  Each club got a picture book to read as a club. How kids interacted said a lot about the state of their communication skills. The students who readily shared the read aloud duty, who helped each other with words, who asked questions, who hovered around the book, who pointed and looked at each other as they spoke, all showed a basic level of communication skill.

Some needed coaching, like “one way to collaborate, is by taking turns. How could you do that with this book?” Or “sitting close together helps you listen. How could you sit to help you listen?” Or “Asking questions is one way to contribute to the group. Is there anything you’re wondering about?”

While the second goal of the unit might be seen as of higher academic value, in that it involves identifying evidence that supports claims about texts. I am a big believer in the soft skills: listening, contributing, and collaborating. Communication is complex and essential. Not just for today. Not just for reading. These are skills they need for life.

picmonkey-collageThank you, Two Writing Teachers for Slice of Life Tuesdays. A place to meet up and share. Read more slices here.