A Snapshot of a Picture Perfect Day


One hundred eighteen fifth graders, lined up in the correct order, walked on stage (without any pushing or complaining) practiced their holiday performance of the Preamble and Wacko’s 50 States, walked off perfectly and then did it again. Perfectly.

Fifty-six fifth graders blogged, blogged, and blogged on the Transcontinental Railroad, the Gold Rush, the Pony Express and the Donner Party.

Twenty-six fifth graders groaned NOOOOOO when we had to stop reading about the American Revolution.

Twelve fifth graders invited forty kindergarteners to play in their Genius Hour cardboard arcade. One fifth grader reported it was a “festival of cuteness.”

Ten fifth graders spent their lunch learning to link their blogs, creating mini websites on Westward Expansion.

Seven fifth graders stayed after school to write, read and be a little silly.

Four fifth graders said they were rereading because they disagreed on the meaning of a scene of a story.

Two fifth graders shared how it’s so weird to have a mom who doesn’t speak Spanish.

One former fifth grade student returned to report she ran the mile in six minutes.

One parent told me her twins call her Mrs. Harmatz for about a half-hour after they get home from school.

One son called from college to say he got an A+ in his Calculus class.

One grateful teacher/mom has completed her post and is going home.

Long live #nerdlution.

Today I Questioned What Matters: Conventions, Really?

Professional development sometimes upsets my focus. Tuesday’s PD was on the conventions portion of the language standards. I looked at them all split up. A puzzle to solve. Which standard went in which grade level was the challenge.

Confession: I have not focused on the conventions portion of the language standard this year. Reading, writing and speaking and listening and vocabulary standards felt like quite enough.

Confession: I really like teaching reading and writing, speaking, listening and vocabulary.

Confession: Not a fan of conventions.

Justification: Teaching when to use the future perfect tense seems quite pointless if my students are still trying to get subject verb agreement. Teaching proper use of “whom” when we are still struggling with me versus I. Please!

Me thinking: Attempting these “grade level” standards would be an exercise in frustration and a waste of time, students’ time.

So today I questioned

How am I using my time?   Rephrase, their time.

Is it adding up? For them.

Is it making a difference?  In their learning.

What makes real learning? That sticks.

What will matter for this student? Now.

Working Answer/Philosophy: I must trust in what matters for this student now. The rest will come in time. Maybe not in my time, but in their time. I must believe in the process of learners owning their learning with an eye toward a goal that is visible, to them. The path might not be clear. Things might get in the way. Detours and adjustments are my job. My time with this student is limited, but their time learning is not.

IMG_0730Learning moments that will build to more learning matter. That’s all.

Me still troubled:  I look at the conventions standards in Appendix C and find this,

“Grammar and usage development in children and adults rarely follows a linear path. Native speakers and language learners often begin making new errors and seem to lose their mastery of particular grammatical structures or print conventions as they learn new, more complex grammatical structures or new usages of English…These errors are often signs of language development as learners synthesize new…knowledge…students often need to return to the same grammar topic …as they move through k-12 schooling.”

This and the accompanying table that shows a progression of when basic skills need to be retaught starts to fit with my thinking of how learning goes, the need to be re taught and for teachers to meet students where they are. These things take time to master and the growth that may feel like a step backward is a step forward.

This thinking and writing is due nerdlution-button-tiny-01-1to the #nerdlution challenge.  Thanks be to #nerdlution.

Slice of Life: A Cat Tale

sols_6This slice is about my cat. Thanks to the Slice of Life community for putting up with slices such as these, because they are a part of life. New rules about slices may have to be made.

I love my cat. Never thought I would be a self-proclaimed cat lover. This was an unexpected conversion. We are not cat people. We are dog people. But the busy nature of our lives and a dog’s needs just don’t mix. The self-reliant cat really seemed to fit our life style, so when a litter of kittens was abandoned near our home, we kept one.

In many ways I admire my cat. He is beautiful. He moves with power and grace. Sleep never evades him.  He oozes confidence.  He really doesn’t care what others think of him. And, he always gets his way. No one can say no to a cat. They torture you until they get what they want. You got to hand it to cats.

I spent the weekend with my cat, but not in the typical non obtrusive, just lie around and add to the furniture kind of way.

I got home on Saturday morning after a swim, just a quick stop before I go shopping, and hmm. There’s a smell. Must be the trash, I think. I grab some bags and off to the store.

About a half hour later. I walk in, bags full of groceries. Still the smell. Hmm. Check the trash, nothing there, empty.

I start unloading.

My daughter walks in and screams, “Oh my God Mom look what Chubby did!”

Yes, his name is Chubby.

I come running. What is left of a bird, is scattered down my hallway. The heat is on; the fan is blowing; feathers are floating, clinging to the walls. Yuck.

“Get a plastic bag,” I tell my daughter.

“I’m not touching that,” she replies.

“Just get it,” me disgusted with everything.

I know this is the way they say I love you (not the daughter, the cat). Great. Love me less.

After the mess is cleaned up, I go looking for him.

Vicious, evil, carnivore. Where’s that demon.

Yep, usual spot. Basket of clean clothes.

I pick him up. “Oh… Claire, come here.” I yell.

Daughter comes running.

The tip of his ear has a piece taken out of it.

I’m thinking was this after or before the bird.

He regularly comes home with scratches and I hope he’s learning not to pick fights. This is a little more that a scratch.

I call the vet.

Get him into the carrier and obtain a few scratches in the process.

I sit at the vet’s.

The gentle female vet walks in, full of love for all creatures great and small. She examines my cat.

“Hmm. Well, we’ll have to clean this,” she says. “Looks a little too late to sew it up.” She whisks him off.

In about 10 minutes and $295 dollars later, I’m in the car with cat and liquid antibiotics. Is she kidding? Me get this liquid down my cat’s throat. I have a hard enough time getting him in the cat carrier. There is no way.

That night, I dutifully try to get those antibiotics down. Not. Cats don’t do what they don’t want to do. I can’t fathom how the vet can do anything with him. (This might be how some parents view my ability to deal with a classroom full of students.)   He will just have to be ok with the antibiotic she gave him. Ugh.

Next day. He sleeps peacefully on my desk, beside my books. As if he has done no wrong to nature or my pocketbook.  2013-10-25 21.55.40

Inquiry Work: Read Aloud vs. Independent Reading

My students came in today so excited you’d think it was the day before Winter Break. I couldn’t figure out why they were so amped. So I asked.

“What is our new read aloud?!” they shouted.

We have read two wonderful books this year: Wonder and Out of My Mind. With the end of one, they can’t wait for the next one. I love this, but they don’t come in that way after they finish their own books. This behavior coupled with some seeds planted in my head by Steve Peterson, pushed me to do a little inquiry.

Exactly how different is the read aloud experience compared to the experience students have when they read independently? How far a part are they? How different? Is it like apples and oranges or more like tangerines and oranges?

There is a difference, even for me. When I prepare for a read aloud, I have probably read the text at least five times, with many lenses. The multiple reads help as does the multiple ideas I get from student input during read aloud. In the end, my understanding is far deeper than what it was the first time I read the text.

I know students are not doing the deep processing in their independent reading like they do during read aloud — there is no way they could. My wondering is: How can the gap between the two become smaller?

I wondered what students thought the difference was and how they thought they could make their independent reading experience more like read aloud. So in small groups, I asked:  How is read aloud different than reading independently?

Each student identified about two issues. Top mentions included…

  • I jot more.
  • I know when to jot.
  • Hearing and seeing the words help me.
  • I have someone near me to ask when I don’t understand.
  • Group discussions help me understand.
  • You are reading, so it’s easier to think.

Then I asked a follow up …

  • How could you know when to jot?
  • How could you hear the story?
  • How could you get group input about your book?
  • How could you make the reading easier?

Here are some of their responses…

  • I could put post its on pages I’m have problems/wonderings about and bring it to my group for discussion.
  • I could use a whisperphone to hear my story.
  • I could use the signposts (Notice and Note) to tell me when to jot.
  • I could jot when I have a wondering.
  • I could jot when I notice a pattern.

Mind you these are all suggestions and teaching points I have given them in the past, but I acted like it was a huge aha for me.

The most interesting and most difficult comment to address was this:You are reading, so it’s easier to think.

Ideally reading is thinking, but for a struggling reader or the reader who is trying to dig deeper, the thinking work is a second step (or maybe even a third step). So we talked about how we could make the reading work easier so it would be easier to think.

Our discussion went like this:

Me: How could you make the reading easier, so you could think?
Student: Read an easier book.
Me: Yes, that’s an option. What else could you do?
Student: Read a book I read before.
Me: Ok. What else could you do?
Student: I could reread.
Me: Do you have to reread everything?
Student: No, only the important parts and when I’m confused.
Me: So how do you know when it’s important?
Student: (He pointed to the charts with Notice and Note signposts), or when I see a pattern.
Me: Ok. So what could be your goal? How are you gonna make your independent reading more like read aloud?
Student: Re read important parts so I can think about it.

Cool I think. Organic close reading.

I know that they won’t necessarily do this every time they pick up a book, but the goals are written. That’s step one.

It is up to both of us now.

They try. I check. We adjust and try again.

It’s not perfect, but perhaps the gap got a little smaller today and the expectation a little clearer.

Blogs: My Cup Runneth Over

In honor of the Edublog awards I thought I would offer some of the blogs I would give top awards to. While this may seem like a festival of name dropping, I truly love these blogs. I want to be these people when I grow up. Some of these blogs are nominated for the Edublog Award, but many are not. Thanks to all who spend time on their computers, so I can spend time on mine.

1. To Make a Prairie by Vicki Vinton. 

When I see her post pop up as an email alert I jump to open it just like when the amazon package comes with a freshly released book I’ve been hungry for. Her posts always fill me instructionally and keep me accountable to my teaching.

2. Blogging Through the Fourth Dimension by Pernille Ripp

Pernille never ceases to amaze me. She is on the forefront of so much in the teaching profession. Her willingness to put her thoughts on the line for what is right, sets a very high bar. I am always inspired by her mission, her passion, and her forthrightness. She pushes readers’ thinking and, as evidenced by some of the comments, their buttons. Pernille takes the heat with grace.

3. Indent by Kate Roberts and Maggie B. Roberts

Ok, I just love their writing. The thinking is always spot on. Want more please. I think I would settle for being their cat when I grow up.

4. Read, Write, Reflect by Katherine Sokolowiski

She pours out thoughts that have been mine and solved problems that I haven’t been able to figure out. What more could you want from an education blog. Thank you @Katsok.

5. Slice of Life by an amazing community of writers nurtured by Two Writing Teachers

These Slices have brought me to tears (click here. and here), made me laugh out loud (click here and here), sigh, and inspire me to go on (click here and here). A huge thank you to this group of writers.

6. Sharpread by Colby Sharp

I love his research oriented thinking. His work in reading and writing give me hope and support.

7.  Two Writing Teachers co authored by Betsy Hubbard, Elizabeth Moore, Stacey Shubitz, Tara Smith, Anna Cockerille, and Dana Murphy

This blog always puts forth writing practices that I could use tomorrow. Even if it isn’t on my grade level, I get ideas from this group of tremendous educators. Every post is a mini “PD” and something I want all of my colleagues to read.

8. Teach by Learning. Learn by Teaching. by Christopher Lehman

This blog has been the epicenter of so many great trends in education. The close reading bonanza that authored so much in reading and blogging. And now #nerdlution that has inspired thousands or words written, read, and calories burned.

9. Kinderconfidential by Kristine Mraz

This is a new one for me and I don’t teach Kinder, BUT wow. This one is fun and usable even for those not teaching K. I want to be able to doodle like Kristi when I grow up.

10. Nerdy Book Club

I am so thankful for this group of bloggers’ commitment to nerdiness and books. Their passion pushes me to give my students the best in literature.

I could go on forever but, I must mention one last connection:  the twitter chats.

#wrrdchat, A group of educators came together this summer to study What Readers Really Do. When I see a tweet from one of these tweeps, I want to reach out and hug them.  We are connected souls via Vicki VInton.

#tcrwp chats, Wednesday, 7:30 EST. These are just perfect hump day thinking. They keep me going in reading and writing. If you are on the road you pull over, whip out the phone and chat.

#caedchat, Sunday nights 8 pm PST. They are my homies and they make my head spin. Sometimes I can follow. It is my goal to keep up.

#5thchat,  Tuesday nights 8 pm EST. Got to love 5th grade teachers; they are my people.  If I miss it this one, I check the archive.

If you don’t already, check out these great spots for learning. What blogs and chats do you love?

Celebrate: Our First Classroom Skype

celebrate link upToday I want to celebrate my classroom’s first Skype adventure. We (eventually) Skyped with students in New York on the book Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper.

I have to admit, I was worried. I was worried because we were Skyping on a book that we were just finishing that day. I was worried because I hadn’t prepared my students for what they would be encountering and how to be good Skyping partners. (Largely because I wasn’t sure what a good Skyping partners looked like.) I was also worried because when technology is involved, something can and probably will go wrong.

Fortunately, I had a very understanding teacher and classroom on my side, Erin Varley and her class of 5th graders. They were old hands at this (they have done it once!). “Don’t worry it’s just me,” she DM’ed me on twitter days before the scheduled chat. But I was worried. I didn’t want to fail her or our students.

At the planned time, 10:00 am PST, 1:00 pm EST, my students are all on the carpet, ready for the call. 10:05 nothing. We call. No connection. My students, who were at first quietly assembled on the carpet, are getting a little restless. I DM Erin. Do I have the right Erin Varley? I check. I try. Still nothing. Students and two adults, who came to watch, are all getting a little more than restless. We try. We test with someone else. Try again, still nothing. I DM Erin with lots of confused thoughts. The combination of failing technology and noisy students makes my thinking jumble. Students are offering suggestions of what to do. Time is passing. The noise level is rising. The focus is diminishing.  But we keep trying. Time is passing. Keep trying.

At 10:25 am PST, 5 minutes before recess. The call goes through. Yeah!! Erin’s class is lovely, sitting quietly on the carpet, and we all see Erin looking calm. My kids are going berserk. Waving and elbowing for the tiny screen in front of them. Erin thankfully starts us up with a question from one of her students.

Eventually we get the idea of what to do. The chat continues. And I breathe a sigh of relief.

Even though I lost some students to recess, a core group kept chatting till recess ended. They learned about the three hour time difference. Some found it amazing that Miss Varley’s students didn’t have recess when they had recess.

For you Skyping veterans, this may seem like a big yawn, but for my students and me it was awesome.  Student questions were thoughtful and answers interesting. My students loved seeing the students they had been blogging with for the past two amazing books — Wonder and Out of My Mind. Thank you Erin and your students. Can’t wait to do it again!

#Nerdlution — On Being Consumed by Story: A Total Indulgence

nerdlution-button-tiny-01-1Today is a day for reading fiction — for me. Long before I started teaching I thought there was no way I could teach simply because I’d have to give up the books I love to read kid lit.

In some ways that scenario did come to pass. My reading of novels has declined, in fact disappeared during the school year, and has been replaced by kit lit. I don’t read the New Yorker cover to cover anymore, although it piles up in baskets waiting for me. In book stores, I don’t go to the adult section I head to children’s literature.

Not that I am complaining. I LOVE kid lit. ( I think I’m a level T reader.) Professional literature, be it blogs or books, fuel my teaching which is my passion. I’m not unhappy about my reading life.

Due to #nerdlution, I have chosen to rekindle the reading of books — for me, a little earlier than summer break. The question/fear that lurks is: can I do this?

I started in on Company of Liars by Karen Maitland. It’s been on my to be read pile since the summer. I can’t remember why I bought this, but it was probably because of my passion for all things medieval, English and a tad gruesome.

Initially I had to fight the tendency to think like a teacher and just be a reader. I was honestly concerned that I could get into a book without having the world of teaching or the desire to check my twitter feed sneak into my thoughts.  About five pages into the book, I was lost in the world of 1348, filled with pestilence, superstitions, and fear. It is book of story and story tellers. Ah, to be lost in story for no other reason than to enjoy it. You know that feeling. It doesn’t come from anything else.

I read for an hour, and I plan to resume right after I finish this post. What an indulgence. Sort of like eating a box of carmel covered chocolate. This is why I don’t read books like this till summer break. They consume me. But then again, just a little bite couldn’t hurt. I don’t have to eat the whole box. I can enjoy a little and put it down. Right? Working on that.

#Nerdlution continues and life is good.

#Nerdlution Meets Reality….

nerdlution-button-tiny-01-1Today’s mission was to write about reading.

In the spirit of trying to put myself in the shoes of my students, I am looking to read some non fiction closely. I look through my bookshelf. Pull out a few books on my “in the process” of reading pile. But in the back of my mind is the suggestion I got in the #tcrwp chat: Colleen Cruz’s Independent Writers.  I’ve read this book, several times but the train of thought created by that chat wouldn’t allow me to go elsewhere.

I start at the beginning. And I do remember this, yet it is good again.

What I realize as a reader of non fiction:

  • To be engaged, choice is necessary.
  • Good narrative writing makes good non fiction writing..
  • The necessity of reader/writer connections.  I see myself in this text, and I am immediately pulled in.
  • To get someone to read your work, you better make sure they connect to you or your ideas. So much for the four corners of the page.

A few other things that resonated with me about writing:

  • The need for all units of study to have an element of independence.
  • Students need to have a “memory of writing success.”
  • Frequent reflections on work is necessary.
  • A community of support needs to be established well beyond the teacher.
  • If students are allowed to follow their passions in writing they will crave it.

While this was written before (2004) our current technology and Common Core Standards, its timeless points are well worth the read. In many ways independence is encouraged in my classroom, but the idea of independent writing outside the units of study has always seemed impossible.

As I consider my work this year:

  • Blogging requires (almost creates) the development of community, purpose and audience.
  • Our current Genius Hour time, which has reached well outside the realm of writing could become a home for independent writing projects.

All food for thought as I read on.

So did I read closely?

Pieces of Me

2013-12-03 19.42.45Pieces of me.

Sweet spicy winter tea

one cup of a nestled group

 chipped tea rest from Mom,

countertop with colors I covet,

stainless steel utensils,

olive oil dish (also chipped).



that connect to each other,

and to other parts,

and to me,

 and make me whole.

This is a part of my #nerlution challenge: a poem a week. Trying it  out, seeing what happens.

#Nerdlution Day 1-The Mission, the Plan, the Ground Rules

ImageI’ve been thinking about my #nerdlution to write daily for 50 days. First of all who wouldn’t want to do this, just to get the really cool button crafted by @MrazKristine. Secondly, I want to do this in a way that is not crazy making, that is in fact doable and fun. I needed direction. I needed a mission!   Then I needed my ground rules, a sort guide book, a plan. I really can’t help this, I’m a nerd. I live by rules and plans.

My simple mission in this #nerdlution is to discover something about writing and myself. I want to push from time to time to points where I might be a little uncertain or a little uncomfortable.

So here goes my #nerdlution plan:

  • Monday: Reflection on what I’ve done so far
  • Tuesday: Slice of Life – Love this writing community!
  • Wednesday: Poetry – This is shaky ground for me, so I’m breaking out the Georgia Heard.
  • Thursday and Friday – Writing about reading – More nonfiction needed here.
  • Saturday: Celebration –  A huge thank you to Ruth Aryes creator of this wonderful weekly ritual.
  • Sunday: Working on this one. Thinking about reflections on students.

The Ground Rules:

  • No school night writing may take over 30 minutes.
  • In bed by 10 pm on school nights.
  • Upon reflection and with really good reasons, I can modify.