#SOL15: Day 30, Notes from TCRWP’s Saturday Reunion

Last weekend, I was fortunate enough to attend TCRWP’s 88th Saturday Reunion. The beauty of TCRWP is their belief in teachers and the need to build and bolster the community as learners. The reunion was open to all; a gift to anyone who makes their way to New York City.

There was so much to be gained from the sessions. The only problem was choosing which one to go to!

Carl Anderson’s session lifted my understanding of how to use mentor texts, particularly in narrative writing.

2015-03-28 10.08.49Some key points:

  • Students should be immersed in the sound of a genre and to see the way a genre is written.  To be able to write well, students must understand how it goes. Perhaps we don’t put enough emphasis on this because it doesn’t look like writing.
  • Collect texts that are examples of the genre you are working in, that will work best for your students and that you love.
  • A writer’s ability to envision a text is dependent on their knowledge of texts. Therefore, we must surround our children with mentor texts. This means read texts as readers first and read a lot of them before we start to read them as writers.
  • Choose a few of to use as mentor texts for writing. Know these well, examine them through a lens of writing by asking, “how did the writer do _____?” 
  • Identify parts of the text to show how it’s put together. Carl did this with Ralph Fletcher’s memoir “The Last Kiss.” He blocked out  and named parts of the text. I’ve done this with informational and argument, but not with narrative writing. What a huge aha.2015-03-28 10.38.14

Cornelius Minor’s session helped us make some sense of the common core demands to find that “main idea,” “theme,” and “evidence” to support their thinking.

  • First know this: one can’t find evidence without an idea. Hallelujah! 
  • Cornelius shared video clips to show us how to formulate an idea:
    • first find a topic,
    • second say what do you think about it and
    • three say it in a sentence that seems true and that
    • equals an idea!
  • By going through this process multiple times, we had the opportunity to try, try, and try again. Which brings to an essential tenant: students must be able to try, fail and try again and again. This “how-to” broken down into a one-two-three sequence with accessible text (think video) allows students to reach toward finding that idea, so they can then go back and find evidence.
  • Lastly, Cornelius shared a way to support students in finding thematic concepts. He shared five “universal” themes presented in middle school kid language. By giving students the possible ideas up front, students can consider these possibilities and see what fits.

Kylene Beers’ closing was beautiful. Her recent post outlines much of her keynote’s high pointsMany have blogged about it. Check out Fran, Tara and Catherine’s posts.

Kylene knows how to bring home what matters in a clear and concise way as these points show:

  • The reading of literature is necessary to develop our human qualities.
  • When we become a part of the character’s life we learn the most about ourselves.
  • A book’s “want-ability” is much more important than readability.
  • For books to be relevant to kids they must have choices.
  • Deep thinking always begins with questions, not the answers.

Attending the reunion was a teacher fantasy come true. Spending time with colleagues and Slicers made New York like home.

Just one more day left in the month of March! I can’t believe it’s almost over. Thank you, Anna, Beth, Betsy, Dana, Stacey and Tara for hosting the challenge. Read more Slicers here.

#SOL15: Day 23, What We’re Reading

It’s Monday, and I made a commitment to a chapter book Read Aloud. I don’t take this decision lightly. Our class Read Aloud shoulders a huge responsibility.

Read Aloud is the centerpiece of the Reading Workshop. It guides and informs reading and writing instruction: from vocabulary, structure, and craft to understanding character, cultural  and historical perspectives.

Read Aloud is our shared group experience. We are tied together by this text. It’s one of the biggest decisions I make for my students. It nurtures our reading community.  For this reason, the majority of our Read Aloud time is spent in literature. I believe that is how we learn about humanity and how to be humane.

Informational text happens beside our Read Aloud, with online articles, picture books, infographics, maps, pictures, and primary documents that supplement the literature.

Some of my students struggle to love reading. They read because it’s good for them (like spinach), because their parents require it, because they want to do well in school. Not because they love it. I get that. But if all goes well, Read Aloud is the best part of the day.and these students know that book love is possible.

Because of this, Read Aloud must be a book that students will carry with them forever. When they come back to visit me as middle schoolers, the first question they ask is what are you reading.

These reads have met the standard for my students over the years-

  • Because of Winn-Dixie
  • Flying Solo
  • Mick Harte Was Here
  • How to Steal a Dog
  • Tiger Rising
  • Wonder
  • Out of My Mind
  • The One and Only Ivan
  • Locomotion

All of these reads have included kids that in some way connected to my students.They could see themselves in one way or another in these books.

Today we will start a book that may stretch their thinking a bit, A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park. Will they see themselves in Salva and Nya? Can they connect to this world of war and struggle for the basics of life? Will this be just a window into this foreign country and culture? Or will we find threads that connect us to these characters.

9k=The Sudanese children in this story are a far cry from Los Angeles urban kids. Or are they? We start our journey today.


Thank you, Anna, Beth, Betsy, Dana, Stacey and Tara of Two Writing Teachers blog for hosting the Slice of Life March Story Challenge. Read other bloggers slices here.

#SOL15: Day 21, Celebrate This Week

Today’s post serves a dual purpose. To mark my 21st post in the Slice of Life Story Challenge and to Celebrate this Week with Ruth Ayers.

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hcelebrate link up


I am celebrating blogging daily. Writing is a gift I’m giving myself. It’s exhausting and defeating at times, but the benefits far exceed the costs.

I am celebrating the Slice of Life blogging community. I can’t express my gratitude towards this virtual writing group. You keep me going. Without this community, I would not be celebrating writing.

I am celebrating reading and commenting on blogs. I could (and do) spend hours in front of my screen and not realize it. Your posts lift me up. They make me laugh and sometimes shed a tear or two.

I am celebrating picture books. I don’t do enough picture book reading with my kiddos. This week, rather than jumping into the next chapter book, I did a planned week of picture book reading.  Reading these beautiful books offered the benefits of pictures, story told in one sitting, and accessible text that allows for deeper thinking and introduction of new strategies.

I am celebrating that we made it to the weekend. All together. My father-in-law entered hospice on Monday. We knew this was expected, yet it’s a shock. Our daughter is devastated, she knew this would happen, yet still. Our son’s last final was on Thursday; we didn’t want to say anything till he got home.

The world stops when this kind of thing happens. We made it to today.  I exhale and celebrate our family being together, for now.

Happy Saturday. Happy Slicing.



#SOL15: Day 20, Voices Found in Story

Building on our work in Read Aloud this week (see Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday posts), I read Jacqueline Woodson’s Each Kindness. Students are very familiar with the story; we’ve read it multiple times at the beginning of the year.

Students were asked to take on the voice of one character. They wrote in their notebooks as I read, stopped and asked: what do you think and feel.

Their choice of character split down the middle. Those who chose Maya had similar reactions, a mix of hurt and confusion. The Chloe choice showed differing responses.

Asking students to be the character; to write in the voice of the character has moved their writing about reading. The difference in reactions to the Chloe character maybe due to the various ways students interpret her through their personal lens.

2015-03-19 13.13.502015-03-19 13.13.45

The following is a found poem based on six students responses.

I am Maya.

Who is this person?

Why is this girl getting away from me?

I think she doesn’t like me; isn’t happy with me.

Feel lonely cause they

didn’t want to be my friend.

Can’t ask they’ll say no

I will not tell the teacher

Hate this place, left out

Feeling scared.

People are whispering

they’ll reject so I just play by myself

Left out

and I want to go.

I am Chloe

why is she so shy?

should I smile back?

should I be her friend?

why next to me

eww I don’t like her

she has poor clothes


she’s poor

has no friends

I never want to be her friend

laughing because she was sitting by herself and

has a pretty party dress but looks like

second-hand store

Why am I being so mean?

Should I say sorry?

Should I play with her? She is nice to ask.

Why am I being so mean

Should I compliment her

Her dress is pretty but it’s used.

Maybe it’s new.

Why won’t she come over

Where did she go?

Should have been kind.

why didn’t I smile back?

Why was I so mean?

When will she come back

Want to smile back

be nice to Maya.

Tomorrow’s the last day in our picture book series. We’re reading One Green Apple.


Thank you, Anna, Beth, Betsy, Dana, Stacey and Tara of Two Writing Teachers blog for hosting the Slice of Life March Story Challenge. Read other bloggers slices here. 11454297503_e27946e4ff_h

#SOL15: Day 18, Can you see yourself?

Yesterday we read my all-time favorite Dr. Seuss story:

2Q==-1I’ve loved this story since I was little. I remember my momma reading this collection to me.

I read it to my children.

Yesterday,  I read it to my students.

It was like coming home. I felt the words in my heart and soul.

I chose this title as a part of my week-long can-you-see-yourself in characters series. Terje’s comment on yesterday’s post inspired and “stretched” my ideas.

#SOL15  Day 17, Seeing the Character in Us   To Read To Write To Be

With Terje in my head, I asked students if you were a character in this book, who would you be?  The Star-bellied or the Plain-bellied Sneetch.

They listened, talked and wrote in their notebooks.

As I sent them off to read, I invited them to look for characters in their club books that they would choose to be. At the end of reader’s workshop, I collected their thoughts.

Some wrote on The Sneetches.

2015-03-17 21.00.23

Both of these students reflected on the themes in this story and connected it to their personal journeys.

…I tried to fit in, then I started to be myself and I got lots of friends.

…I thought to myself at the end of the book that we all are the same and we can treat each other kind.


2015-03-17 21.03.20

These students attempted to see themselves in their club books. The first jot is from the graphic novel, Amulet.

I think I would be the robot Cogsley because I like to help and he is the assistant and makes everything is order. Or maybe I would be Navin because he also helps but he is brave and is always there for his sister.

The next is from a reader of Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere.

I will see myself as Armani because I got to take responsibility for by two little sisters still.

This same reader adds her thinking on the Sneetches:

It looks like the slaves…because plain Sneetcehs = slaves. Star sneetches = white people.

Amazing the power of one little prompt. Amazing where one little comment can go.

Thank you, Terje and all who offer feedback and support for my classroom learning.

Today’s read aloud is Mem Fox’s Feathers and Fools.



My question: If you were in this story, what would people see you doing, feeling, saying. What kind of a character would you be?

Thank you, Anna, Beth, Betsy, Dana, Stacey and Tara of Two Writing Teachers blog for hosting the Slice of Life March Story Challenge. Read other bloggers slices here. 11454297503_e27946e4ff_h

#SOL15: Day 17, Seeing the Character in Us

I started read aloud, asking students if books took them places. Most students nodded. Then I added, “In books I love, I see myself in the character. I feel like they do. It’s like holding up a mirror, seeing a bit of me in them. Have you ever had this happen to you?”

One or two students nodded, but the majority looked at me like I was crazy. Even my most perceptive readers looked confused.

Then I dug around, giving them some examples from our past read alouds. Saying, “have any of you felt like …”

I was losing them, so I dropped it and pulled out Hey, Little Ant by Phillip and Hannah Hoose.

2015-03-16 18.10.50

In this story, Kid feels it’s his right and duty to crush Ant, but Ant begs Kid to see the world through his eyes.

I ask students, do you see bits of yourself on this page? Have  you ever felt this way? At first they identify with Kid.

Then Kid says, how can you feel anything you’re so small. Ant replies,

2015-03-16 18.11.21

I ask, “have you ever felt so small and asked this same question?”

“Yes! With my parents!”

Bingo. A shift from Kid to Ant. For a moment, they see themselves in this character. Ant is them.

We consider:

2015-03-16 18.11.58

Students have strong beliefs. “Ant should live! He has a family. They should become friends!”

I’ve spent the year reading books that revolve around kindness. Students could see it in the story. They know who’s the bully, and they don’t like him. But, then they’d go to the playground and call another student “Auggie.”

How could they not see they were being the bully they hated in the story? I hadn’t considered they didn’t see themselves in characters.

This week we will be practicing finding ourselves in picture books characters. Today students had a tiny aha. I had a big aha. Maybe more will be found if we just clean our lenses and look for it.

Thank you, Anna, Beth, Betsy, Dana, Stacey and Tara of Two Writing Teachers blog for hosting the Slice of Life March Story Challenge. Read other bloggers slices here. 11454297503_e27946e4ff_h

#SOL15: Day 16, Process, Practice, Product

Our culture is dominated by end results, the product. I struggle with this.

Reading Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones has pushed me to pay more attention to the process. This excerpt from the chapter entitled “Composting,” takes my breath away.


Our senses by themselves are dumb. They take in experience, but they need the richness of sifting for a while through our consciousness and through our whole bodies…we collect experiences, and from the decomposition of the thrown-out eggshells, spinach leaves, coffee grinds, and old steak bones of our minds come nitrogen, heat, and very fertile soil. Out of this fertile soil bloom our poems and stories. But this doesn’t come all at once. It takes time.

The last two lines not only speak to my writer’s mind, but to my sense as a learner. We need to honor and cultivate the process, the “composting” that builds and sustains learning. Respecting all aspects of the process, allowing time.

We need to place value not only on our students’ process, but our process as learners. Acknowledging that it’s ongoing, irritative and adjusting, continually composting.

We have our students for a very short time; our job is to guide them on their journey as learners as they add to our learning as educators.

The learning happens over time. Variations and aberrations exist; should be identified, studied and held up not as an indictment, but an opportunity.  Pathways to better teaching and learning can grow out of studying the process.

Goldberg continues:

Understanding the process cultvates patience and produces less anxiety. We aren’t running everything, not even the writing we do. At the same time, we must keep practicing.


Process, Product

Pages read; lines written

books considered, attempted, completed,

and abandoned.

Questions asked

and answered.

Notes, sketches, plans, decisions,


What I like,

who I am,

comments received, revision decisions,

A process,

a practice,

a product, ever changing


Thank you, Anna, Beth, Betsy, Dana, Stacey and Tara of Two Writing Teachers blog for hosting the Slice of Life March Story Challenge. Read other bloggers slices here. 11454297503_e27946e4ff_h

#SOL15: Day 15, Reflections on Tech in Writing Workshop

Margaret Simon’s blog Reflections on the Teche has link up every Sunday that highlights technology use. I haven’t posted much because I didn’t think I had anything to share.

The Slice of Life Story Challenge has changed my understanding of this link up. Today I’m not highlighting anything new and amazing. Today I’m sharing a reflection on my technology usage in the classroom.


On Friday, in honor of Digital Learning Day I borrowed enough iPads to have a 1:1 learning environment. My intent was to give students a large block of time to blog and comment. Initially, I saw this as celebratory move of our digital learning.  What I didn’t anticipate was how this would change my outlook on teaching in this environment.

After a few technical issues, all students were engaged on their blogs. I walked around with my laptop (thankfully a Mac Air) balanced on my arm, looking over shoulders. Conferences in this electronic mode happened in a slightly different way.

Timely feedback is always an issue in my writing workshop. With so many students, I always feel like I don’t get to them quickly enough, making my feedback less “effective” and sometimes too late.

Seeing their work come up on my screen for “teacher review” was my invitation to step up. While the feedback wasn’t perfect, it was close to immediate in timing.  In those moments, my teaching went up a notch or two on John Hattie scale of effectiveness.

The mid workshop interruption I made was decidedly tech related, yet edged into a real life writing concern, respecting copyrights. I saw a lot of students pulling up pictures from the internet for their posts.  A perfect and necessary time for me to introduce the need for using the advanced search tool on Google.

I projected the images for a sunset on my class iPad. Then demonstrated how to find usage rights. Most understood that they had to pay for a song on iTunes.  I explained this is the same thing. To use some pictures, we must either give credit to or pay for the author’s work.  If we don’t, we are stealing. There is a practical and an ethical side to this lesson I hope a few of them got.

Another outcome of this work was how students naturally moved from publishing a post, to reading other posts. The mentor effect of this was immediate. I didn’t have to tell anyone to try a technique another writer used. If a student found inspiration, they did this naturally.  Writing work continued throughout our workshop. No one said, “I’m done! What do I do now?”  No one wanted to stop writing.

The work was smooth and glitches in technology were minimal. The work was writing work. The technological aspects of the work enhanced writing. As a writing teacher this matters. In the early stages, using devices can seem to be more about the technology and less about the writing. We are finally getting to a point where the technology is a tool for writing.

Student blogging offers an authentic world for students to grow as writers and a 1:1 environment allows teachers better access to student work and ability to provide better feedback. At the end of the day, I decided that 1:1 needs to be a weekly practice. Sharing 15 iPads is good, but 1:1 is great.

Thank you, Anna, Beth, Betsy, Dana, Stacey and Tara of Two Writing Teachers blog for hosting the Slice of Life March Story Challenge. Read other bloggers slices here.



Celebrate/#SOL15: Writing Connections

This post is for day 14 of the Slice of Life Story Challenge and a Celebrate This Week link up rolled into one.



celebrate link up




This week I celebrate celebrating. Celebrating is a mindset, a practice. It reorients me toward the positive. I need that. Thank you, Ruth.

I celebrate my friend Dayna who is now “addicted” to blogging. We sat after work. Dayna’s on her phone. I knew what she was doing. Blogging. I know how she feels. Find her lovely writing here.

I celebrate one hour of student blogging on Friday. I borrowed iPads from my colleague so that all of my kiddos could blog at the same time. They’ve been working on posts all week, but with only 15 minutes a day to blog, many were still in the drafting stage. The objective was to publish and then venture into other classroom blogs and comment.   Find their  slices here.  These tiny pieces of their lives give snapshots of them. Sometimes they surprise me.

I celebrate the WiFi. It worked. All students were capable of connecting, writing, and reading blogs.

I celebrate the ability to give immediate feedback to student writers. As they posted their slices, I could read; then pull up alongside them for an extensive complement and then a “teach” a “nudge” to something that could lift the level of their work.

I celebrate connections students made to other classrooms. The beauty of connecting to one classroom is the multiplier effect.  Mrs. Silverspring’s classroom‘s blogroll has links all over the world. I had no idea, but my student Ryley found it. “I’m reading something written by someone in Russia!”

I celebrate the mentoring power of reading other kid writing. One of my students quite naturally wanted to “write like Tobie in Mrs. Simon’s classroom.”  How beautiful is that?! That, I told him is what writers do.

I celebrate teacher bloggers who share their writing lives with students. The “Dual Poem” form introduced to the adult slicer community by Greg Armamentos has shown up in Margaret Simon’s classroom.

Finally, I celebrate the Slicer community who has opened up my writing life. Thank you, Anna, Beth, Betsy, Dana, Stacey and Tara of Two Writing Teachers blog for hosting the Slice of Life March Story Challenge. Read other bloggers slices here.

#SOL15: Day 13, Just Breathe

As we near Spring Break, kid drama is on the upswing. We only have a few months left and Fifth graders are getting a little nervous. They’d never admit it, but the end of elementary school is approaching, and it’s scary. They’re on the verge of middle school.  Leaving the familiarity and home-like nature of a K-5 school, into an environment with  hallways lined with lockers teaming with big kids and classrooms with students they don’t know is scary.  This change is on their mind, and it shows up in behavior. The incidence of name calling and hurt feelings is on the rise.

I team-teach, and I split the day with two sets of students. The second group is always a little more amped up. They’ve had time on the playground. Things have happened.  Yesterday was no exception. When they came in from lunch recess, spirits were high. They just needed to calm down.

So we practiced something my colleague has trained them to do. He calls it “mindfulness.”  It’s meditative breathing exercises.  I asked them if they wanted to try it.  Yes! was the resounding response.

Sitting up straight in their chairs, they close their eyes. With the lights dimmed, they breathe in slowing “smelling a flower” for a count of six. They hold for a count of two and then exhale  “blowing bubbles” for eight counts. After several rounds, they are calmer. And in better control. “Ready-er” for learning.

These videos offer some tips on teaching children how to do this “mindfulness” breathing. Try it out. It feels great.

Thanks to Anna, Beth, Betsy, Dana, Stacey and Tara of Two Writing Teachers blog for hosting the Slice of Life March Story Challenge. Read other bloggers slices here.