No Failure, No Learning: So Here Goes #Nerdlution Round Two

nerdlution-button-tiny-01-1If you were wondering about #nerdlution, check out Chris Lehman’s post that explains about the idea and its founders.

I failed in #nerdlution round one if success meant meeting all my goals.  And yet, a lot of learning came out of it. I blogged a lot more than I thought possible. I blogged when I thought I had nothing to say, and I realized that blogging daily would require a different stance.

For this second round of #nerdlution, I’m looking to build on my learning in round one and incorporate my one little word, wonder, and some promises I made around it.

#nerdlution round two goals:

1. Blog three times a week: Slice of Life with Two Writing Teachers, #Nerdlution check in with Michelle on Thursdays, and Saturday Celebrations with Ruth Ayers.

2. Tweet learning with my classroom three times a week. I always forget about this so I’m going to make it a goal.

3. Get to bed on time three days a week. I had trouble with getting to bed on time in #nerdlution round 1.

I’m hoping that three’s a charm.

Thank you Michelle for hosting a spot for our #nerdlution exploits.

Paying Attention to the Heart

I’m not paying attention. Things that are right in front of me, I just miss.

I can blame this on the hurry and hustle of life. Perhaps it’s my tendency to hyper-focus on certain things. Some would call this obsessive compulsive behavior. Whatever you name it, I tend to do it. And I miss things.

Poetry is one of those things I don’t see.  It has been there all the time, quietly waiting, but I tend to put it aside for other more “important” pressing things. Saying, I’ll get to it later. Right now I’m too busy.

Now is the time. Inspired by Vicki VInton’s recent posts on poetry, I start searching.  Poetry seems to get buried amongst everything else. Lost in between thick tomes, and many emails (thank you for the reminder Vicki, Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac,) it’s easy to overlook. Poetry is unassuming.

Plowing through my book shelves I find quite a few books of poetry. Each one signaling memories, like listening to old songs.

One book stands out, Wind Song by Carl Sandburg. It was published in 1960 and cost 45 cents. Some of the poems were published in 1916. It was purchased by my dad at a used book store. This book, from the heart of my library., is evidence of dad and his loving ways of scouring old book stores for just the right book.

In the front of the book is my name and home address in cursive. No date, but I’m guessing by the script I was probably 11 or 12 years old. The pages are yellowed and fragile. It smells like an old book store. 2013-12-22 11.15.05

Flipping through the pages I find this:

I know this poem and this picture I’d sketched, but I’d forgotten it.

Once loved, this collection now has the opportunity to be loved again.

I’m wondering what my much older eyes will see in these pages.

The Best Kind of Gift

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Thank you Ruth Ayres for providing a place to celebrate. Today I celebrate the last few days of school and the gift I got.

Thursday, families brought in home-cooked traditional meals for a school pot luck. It was wonderful. Food was plentiful, and most of us ate too much! The holidays should be getting together, sharing, eating and celebrating our future.

Friday, students came carrying red and green bags with colorful ribbons and handed them to their teachers. It happened all over campus. It is our school culture. This is what you do.

When a student gives a gift, I am touched, but to be quite honest also uncomfortable. Did they spent too much? Do feel they have to do this? Do they feel bad if they can’t?

This year one gift stands out. It was a letter. One of those family letters you get in the mail about how your year was. This is an excerpt of his portion of the letter:

I am 10 years old now. I am in 5th grade and I like school. We get to blog on iPads and computers. Teachers from different states let their students blog to each other. It is fun because I have never talked to someone on the computer in a different state. I wrote one story about a kid named Christian and he was annoying. I think I got 5 comments. We do Genius Hour every Thursday afternoon. You create something that nobody else created before. I made a game called “box basketball” where you shoot a paper ball. I write stores about kids and their challenges. Another story is about a raccoon who is a spy. Another story is about a superhero named Wind Runner and he can control the wind. 

We have this thing called Breakfast in the Classroom. We eat at our desk. I like the coffee cake and waffles. I don’t like how they changed the school lunch. They’re trying to make kids skinner by giving them protein and nutrients. They don’t have burgers and pizza and chocolate milk anymore. I don’t like that because I don’t eat a lot of junky stuff. Now they have brown rice and beans or veggie burgers. I started making my own lunch.

Today, I am celebrating this gift of reflection..

This letter showed what mattered — to him.

He likes school. He had me there, but he went on to mention so many things that I hoped would matter to students: blogging, connecting, comments, his game and his stories. The food reflection I think is quite interesting. While he doesn’t like the meals, he has made changes on his own to make his life better.

I will treasure this letter not only for what it said, but for the inspiration it has given me for future gift giving. If a student chooses to give a gift, let it be only one that they can create. A card, a letter, a drawing, an origami yoda.  Give a gift from the heart, not your parent’s pocket book, and that will make a great celebration for all.

Happy Holidays!

School’s Out! Homework? Nope. Challenge? Yep.

If I were to define the start of the last day of school, 2013, I’d say it would be… exhausted.

Yesterday was filled with intermittent rain, wind, and holiday performances. Our daily business was squeezed in between each show: vocabulary, performance, book shopping, performance, reading, performance, blogging, performance, pot luck luncheon for students and families, and genius hour. Whew!

Today, Friday. The rain cleared for our traditional fifth grade mile and the whole school came out to cheer us on. It was fun, no one was hurt, and we were… exhausted but pleased.  Most ran their fasted mile ever. All finished.

But wait…before y’all collapse and head off to break….I want to talk about resolutions.


A resolution (student definition): when you decide you want to be better at something and you make a goal for yourself.

Sounds good.

I told them about  nerdlution and how I challenged myself to blog every day. I explained how I wanted to write more and how I thought the blog would be a way to make myself accountable.

Hmm. The word nerdlution didn’t appeal to them, so they came up with their own names for their 21-day, 3-week challenge.

One room liked createlution. They felt that would involve all their goals. Everything they wanted to do involved creation.

The other room couldn’t decide on a group name, so they all had their own -lution names  – geniuslution, musiclution, dolution, artlution, bloglution, readlution etc.

Each student then wrote personal challenges in their notebook and posted them on the wall.

“So what’s the homework for the break Mrs. Harmatz?”

“Look at what you just wrote,” I replied. “That and reading.”

Last day of school redefined: exhausted, pleased and maybe a bit hopeful about what might be accomplished.

Homework? Nope, Challenge yep.

Go #nerdlution, createlution, geniuslution, musiclution, dolution, artlution, bloglution, readlution etc.

Mixed Emotions — The Last Teaching Day of 2013

It’s the last night before a three week break, and I have mixed emotions.

I’m excited to have a change of pace and a refocus on home. I’m looking forward to lounging around reading a bit more.

I’m excited to have time to recharge and rethink. Sometimes I get so caught up in the moment I forget exactly where I was going when I started. The time to piece together ideas that are coming at me all at once in a slower, more methodical way is a luxury of time off.

I’m excited to be with my family, all together. Both sons should be home tomorrow night. That will make us five again. I value these times above all else. The time with just us five is limited.  As time goes by, their worlds get bigger and our role as parents gets smaller. So when they do direct their attention towards home, I sit up and pay attention.

But, at the same time…

I’m sad about the loss of routine; the disconnection to the day to day. While I love the less hectic pace, I can get lost without a looming deadline. Pressure makes me perform. The lack of it can lead to lots of disappearing time, and the feeling of, “what did I do today?”

I’m sad about loosing contact with my students. They are a part of my life and when they aren’t there, things are just a little off. I have purposely not started a new read aloud because I don’t want to leave something as important as a book up in the air for three weeks. It would feel like we deserted the characters.

I know that every year students come back from break a little more mature than when they left and are able to take on more difficult work. Time off from training the body or the mind allows for recovery and growth.

But (there is always a but), I worry that their reading and writing lives suffer. Thanks to the amazing teaching that precedes me and our school culture, my students know that reading is a must.

The writing part of their lives is a little less developed. For some, the opportunity to blog is there. They will do it because it’s fun and they love it. But many do not have access at home. I can send home books, notebooks, and pens, but I can’t send the internet or a device that allows them to connect to it. I can’t send them daily reminders to write.

What I can do is ask students to come up with their own personalized “game plan” for reading and writing. Perhaps a sort of nerdlution challenge will develop. Something that they define around reading and writing.

Here’s looking at the last teaching day of 2013, with hope for 2014.

Go #nerdlution.

Honoring Those Who Are “Just Doing Their Job”

I walked into the office at 7:30 am and saw the usual pandemonium. In the midst of it was our nurse, Lucia.

Lucia is only at our school two days a week, but her presence is huge. She KNOWS our students and is AWARE of their health issues. If there is anything of concern, from eye sight to allergy, she lets us know.  She is relentless when it comes to a student’s health needs. She follows up on things. She a true professional, committed to our kids. When we go on over night field trips, meds and medical conditions are gone over with a fine-toothed comb, by Lucia.

I love her no-nonsense manner and true sense of purpose.

At lunch, I handed her a card from the 5th grade team. A gift card to the local health food store was enclosed. Lucia practices what she preaches.

At the end of the day she walked into my room and said, “I just want to thank you so much for this.”

“Oh, your welcome, we really appreciate you.” I replied.

She continued, “I can’t tell you how much that means to me, really, you have no idea. I was just doing my job..”

I can honestly say I have never received such a heart-felt thank you. We simply said thanks for what she does for our students. What she does well. Her reaction said it mattered that we noticed and took the time to remember her during the holidays. .

Some may think that this isn’t necessary. She was just doing her job. But her thank you told me that it is necessary to acknowledge people who show passion for and commitment to their work.  It is important to let people know you value what they bring to you. That they matter, and you are grateful.

Thank you Lucia, what you do matters. Thank you.nerdlution-button-tiny-01-1

#nerdlution continues.

Daring Myself: Be Too Happy

I have a superstitious thing about being too happy because if I am, that will surely tempt the demons lurking and show me. On the other hand what good is it to live that way. Why not be joyful when it is so obviously present.

So here’s to a whole lot of good showing up this week.

First – The community of writers at Slice of Life (SOL)  sponsored by Two Writing Teachers is simply beautiful. This group has given me a space to share my family, my work, and my thoughts. To be something I didn’t really feel I could be, a writer.  And they in turn share things that add so much to my life. I use to go workout or sleep in on Tuesday mornings. Now my Tuesday mornings are spent reading and often crying over pieces written by the lovely people who contribute to SOL.  Thank you, thank you Slicers. I you have added so much to my life.

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Second – The Nerdy Book Club’s 2013 nominations inspired me to spend some time and money ordering books this weekend. They are trickling in now thanks to Amazon Prime. Every night I come home to packages. Yesterday it was God Got a Dog by Cynthia Rylant and Marla Frazee and My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish by Mo O’Hara.

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Today Stitches by Ann Lamott and Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo showed up. These books are like chocolate cove2013-12-17 20.38.28red carmel. Absolutely perfect. The thing is, as I open each book to give it a look see, read the first or first several chapters, I think, “I must give this to…” I then wrap it  and make a note to reorder another copy for me.

Third  – My students did a post assessment in information writing today. We have been working on the report writing unit from TCRWP’s Units of Study. These post assessments fill me with a combination of excitement and dread. Excitement: I want to know what they can do, but also dread: oh no what if they haven’t grown.

I read through them just to get an initial feeling for the work, and for the most part, it is good. I’ll slice and dice them over break with the TCRWP’s exquisitely designed rubric, but the overall verdict is thumbs up.

Fourth –  A skype with Ryan Scala and his third grade writers about information writing was the high point for my students’ Tuesday. My season starved kiddos were so excited to hear that there was snow falling in New York. They still are boggled by the time difference.

It was also a treat to talk with Ryan about all things literary as we prepared for our classrooms’ first meeting. The technology is great but it is nothing without the human elements attached. Connecting with passionate students and teachers is simply wonderful.

Fifth – Nerdlution continues.nerdlution-button-tiny-01-1

All this and it’s only Tuesday.

Sunday Night Thoughts

The nerdlution thing has got me cornered here.  So many ideas lurking in my head and the week hasn’t even started.

More often than not, my Sunday nights are bursting with ideas, worries, and theories. My challenge right now in this post is to focus my thinking into something hat will make sense for me and my students.

I’m processing a conversation I had with my husband about a student’s writing. This student’s manuscript is extremely difficult to read. He looked at it, read it aloud slowly. He kept looking at it, processing it. He said, “You know this is actually quite beautiful, visually. Impossible to read, but beautiful.” After bit more examination he said, “his thoughts are really good, interesting.”  I had never thought student’s manuscript as beautiful. My husband went on to say, “He’s very creative, an artist, sort of an impressionist.” Coming from my husband, a bottom line kind of guy, I was a little surprised. He saw an artist in this boy. Surprised but grateful for that new perspective on this student. So I’m seeing this child through new impressionistic eyes. He is doing the writing work in a joyful manner. The conventions of form are not his concern.

I’m processing the #caedchat on great teachers. Great teachers empower, inspire, are passionate about learning, have high expectations, experiment, ask why, listen.  These are just a few of the comments I favorited.

Ask why and then listen stand out for me. Too much of the time i’m so concerned about getting our message across, I forget or don’t give the time to stop and listen.

  • Lessons need to be made with a questioning heart.
  • Leave a big space for why in every lesson.
  • Enter every conversation knowing students have a reason for their actions or inactions. It is my job to figure out why by asking and listening.

Tomorrow starts a week of festivities. Practices, performances and celebrations will be the focus from Wednesday through Friday. So what do I want my students to hold on to as they leave for a three week break?

  •  to enjoy their families as I plan to enjoy mine
  •  to rest and grow
  •  to want to read
  •  to want to write
  •  to miss their friends and routine by week two
  •  to want to get back to school before they come back

Still sorting out these ideas along with the nuts and bolts of tomorrow.

Looking forward to it.

Three Reasons Why My Classroom is Joyful

celebrate link up

My class of fifth graders are a true joy. I celebrate them daily. I mentioned this to my former principal and friend and she asked me why this class is special.

I came up with three reasons.

Reason One: I think classrooms are a chemistry of personalities. When it’s right, it’s sort of a Goldilocks occurrence. The just right mix of leaders, followers, givers, takers, tolerance, forgiveness and caring that allow people to live together. To share space and understand everyone’s little differences; to pick up something without being asked;  to say thank you or I’m sorry all because that is just what we do. This isn’t a perfect group of kids, but they are kind in their core. There are learning disabilities that can lead to tension, but in the end, students ability to reflect on behavior and what matters has led to general peace.

Reason Two: Stress levels are currently at an all time low.  Historically, my students’ idea of school has been mixed in with the need to perform on a test, and it showed.  As a class, they were noticeably anxious. I made it a point to get them to relax, take a breath and just be aware of where they are as learners. I want them to learn it is ok, in fact necessary, to make mistakes.

Why so relaxed? It all started because the test isn’t happening till 2014-15 school year. That gave me the courage to simply teach towards the spirit of the common core. While we have discussed the new expectations as a class, nothing has been done because it will be on the test.  I have been able to simply teach; looking at where students are as learners now, and moving towards where they need to be. I have been able to allow for growth and set backs without worrying about the test. I just worry about instigating learning, figuring out how learning occurs and fostering a positive self-aware attitude toward learning.

The final reason: In a word twitter.  Because of twitter I have discovered things that have had immediate impact on my class: Genius Hour, the Global Read Aloud, Skype, and kidblog. These new projects have changed the fabric and flow of my classroom.  Aside from these very tangible things, there are countless strategies, ideas, charts, lessons that have originated from twitter, twitter chats, blogs and follow-up emails.

The most important impact of twitter has been relationships: the giving group of educators who make the difference in my psyche as I enter the classroom. The positive vibe emanating from the twitterverse is formidable. Bad days occur. I have moments of feeling like I am the worst teacher in the world. Before twitter, those dark pits took time and a lot of energy to get out of. The encouraging voices on twitter and relationships I have built because of twitter have pulled me out of those funks quickly. Twitter has changed me. It doesn’t allow me to wallow in that dark place. It reflects hope and possibility on me and in turn I reflect it on my students. It’s no surprise they are a joyful bunch.

Student Generated Questions Provide a Quick Assessment

I am planning a Skype next week (hopefully) with Ryan Scala’s third grade students on writing. Both classes have just completed TCRWP informational writing Unit of Study.

To prepare, I asked my students what they would like to ask about informational writing. The minute they started talking I realized this was a giving me much more than I expected.

The “get to know you” questions showed what matters to students as writers. Fun and favorites came up a lot.

  • What’s your favorite writing topic?
  • What is the number one thing you like about writing?
  • What’s your favorite piece?
  • How many things have you written?
  • How do you make your writing fun?
  • Do you like writing?
  • What new things did you learn?
  • Was it fun learning about what you wrote about?  Did you find it interesting and cool?
  • Would you have chosen another topic now that you finished writing?

Getting ideas and getting started is a major concern for my students.  (But isn’t this true for all writers?)

  • How do you get an idea of what you’re going to write?
  • How do you get started to write?
  • How do you gather your information?
  • Why did you pick your topic?
  • How long did it take to write your last piece?

I was excited to see questions that showed their awarenesses of narrative informational writing. I’ll look for approximation of this in their writing.

  • How do you make your writing sound like your were really there?
  • How did you make your story come alive?

Some questions revealed knowledge, in this case around organization of a text. Students have co-authored a piece with each contributor taking responsibility for a section. This could have caused their hyper awareness of structure. I’ll be looking for this to come through in their on demands.

  • How do you structure your informational writing?
  • What did you put as your sections?
  • Why did you organize it that way?
  • Did you add a table of contents?
  • How will your organize your next topic?

Some questions revealed writer’s concerns. Conferences are needed around these issues.

  • Have you ever messed up a story and had to do it again?
  • How do you get your sentence to make sense?

Audience and form matters — always. Had I asked them to tell me what they had learned in this unit, they probably would have written what was on my charts. But asking them to create questions for other students put this in an entirely different light.  This five minute exercise gave me a quick look at my students’ understanding of and attitude toward informational writing. Giving students the opportunity to create questions for an audience that matters turned out to be an interesting assessment tool.