#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.

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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.



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.

Celebrate: Regenerative Practices

It’s time to Celebrate this Week with Ruth Ayres.  I’m thankful for all of those who join in this practice. Read more celebrations here.

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This week was a roller coaster, up and down. Each day required reconstruction.  I’ve got a road I want to travel; sometimes our learning path requires significant detours and roadside stops. Sensing where students are relative to where I want to take them is most important.

This week I celebrate the regenerative practice of writing.

Writing allows my thoughts to be tangible. It lets me hold on to and maybe connect pieces. Writing can feed me. It allows my brain and body to connect with something solid. Be it ink and notebook or the keyboard and screen.

This week I celebrate the regenerative process of listening.

On Friday, I caught this conversation on my local NPR station between Noah McQueen and President Obama.   Noah, an 18-year high school senior from Maryland, spoke wise words. Words I wanted my students to hear. They listened hard to Noah and the President. Afterwards, I listened to my students.

I didn’t ask for them to share or to write. I just waited.

Mostly it was quiet.

Then, V said, “He seems a lot older than 18.”

R said, “That was beautiful.”

I agree.

Happy Saturday.




Celebrate: Genius Hour

At six o’clock Friday night my principal walked in my classroom to return Brown Girl Dreaming.  “Jackie Woodson speaks to me! How did I not know about her!?” she gushed. We go on to talk about the book and about all the good that happened this week. I’m so fortunate to be in a school with passionate colleagues that are energized by books and education. After that conversation, more celebrations for the week were clear.

GENIUSHOUR (1)This week students reached the end of a five-week Genius Hour/Passion Project Cycle.  My only constraint in this work is that students stay within the week’s theme.



We started the year with an hour once a week. Due to scheduling problems, the time started to move from an hour once a week to shorter segments across the whole week. Now genius “time” happens in 10 to 15 minutes segments at the end of each day. Many stay to continue working during recess or after school so the time stretches out even longer. At this point, with this group of students, I like the change. They need to get to work quickly and they don’t loose touch with their work.

Students love genius time. They can’t wait. As a teacher you are a consultant, an observer, and a supporter of their learning. Students work in teams of their own creation, on work they direct, completely. They find like minded souls and talk. During all the noise you might wonder: is this time well spent?

After this week of presentations, I am sold on the power of this work.  Students created their own questions, they read content they found, they wrote and planned their presentations. They clearly demonstrated learning and more importantly the process of learning.

The endangered sea animal group did extensive work that will continue though the next cycle. They plan to find ways to raise funds to help .2015-02-20 10.40.05
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There was a lively debate between two students on who was the better soccer player Ronaldo or Messi. They went back and forth with reasons and evidence and at the end they turned to the students saying you decide!


I learned a lot about the history of basketball. Who knew women played in 1892. Less than a year after it was invented!

Three students inspired by Alex’s Lemonade Stand raised $60 over President’s Day weekend for kids with cancer.

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This week I celebrate students’ learning. I celebrate the process and their agency. I celebrate their abilities. I celebrate genius time that allows students to find and use their genius.

Thanks to Ruth Ayers Saturday link up that provides the wonderful practice of celebrating the week! Read more celebrations here.

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Celebrate This Week: Personal Process and Paths

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Every weekend I show up here to celebrate and reflect on the week. Thank you Ruth Ayers for creating the space to share with others who do the same. Taking the time to stop and reflect matters. Reading the reflections of others on similar journeys bolsters and instigates more reflection. Thanks to all who share their celebrations.  You add to mine.

We spent some messy and difficult moments this week trying to figure out how to build sound arguments. Connecting and sorting ideas and evidence can be confusing and frustrating. We worked hard at looking at it one way and then another. Pieces are coming together at different rates.  All are trying to clear a road that is their own. Here’s one: an improved version of my teaching.

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And another quite different journey to understanding.

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And  others struggle to clear a way, to make sense of the evidence, to prove what they believe.

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I celebrate my students’ persistence. Their willingness to work alongside me, to find a way in this work. I celebrate post-its, highlighters and my iPhone camera. These tools allow us to sort, select, and reexamine. I celebrate my students’ ability to change their direction and have courage to make their own path.

This week I celebrate writing and reading that is personal and sometimes buried deep; protected in a place where no one sees. My last conference on Friday was with a reluctant writer and reader. I asked him what was good about writing. He said, after a very long pause, poetry.  Wow I had no idea. I asked him what was his favorite book ever. He shrugged and mentioned Smile and Sisters. Hmm. Poetry and graphic novels. I used to hesitate giving students novels in verse. I thought students just zip through them with little understanding. But this tweet made me reconsider the entire genre and its possibility.

2Q==Of course. It’s easy entry. Few words on a page. A gentle way to pull at the reader in bits that don’t tire. Words on the page that can be taken in deeply providing space and energy to do so.

We’ve been reading Locomotion, So, I asked. Do you like our shared reading work? His eyes lit up. Bingo. The world of novels in verse and my current read (on the right) came to mind. Maybe this is a path for him.


Paths to learning and growth are personal. There is no one way, no magic ticket. I’m lucky I have the opportunity to venture down different roads with students and teachers everyday. Here are some paths I wandered down this morning: writing from Elizabeth, reading from Nora, homework from Pernille; and book love from Carrie.

Happy weekend!

Celebrate This Week: Signs of a Writing Life

For years I have been disturbed by the fact that my students didn’t love, in fact didn’t even like writing. Writing was hard, not fun.This was painful. Clearly I was doing something wrong.  I wanted writing to be something that could make a difference for them; could give them voice. But they weren’t seeing it that way.

So I got them blogging.

It helped a little. But I still didn’t see them jump for writing like they did for reading.

So this year I decided to give students dedicated time everyday to write what they wanted outside of workshop time. I hoped this would help them create a bigger space for their writing lives.

It worked for some. Most needed a push, a reminder, a quick tip, a mini mini lesson, a bit of inspiration to keep going. They needed to be taught to be independent writers.

Time and choice wasn’t enough. The workshop time taught them how to write in workshop, but outside of it they were rather lost.

I added in lessons to teach towards that independent writing life I was imagining for my students and myself: some thematic ones like One Little Word work; gathering ideas; craft lessons dropped in here and there; access to the iPads for blogging and google doc creation. And I wrote beside them in various ways.

Documents and posts started to appear. They were far from perfect but they were growing in number. It was writing. Their writing. Writing they had taken through their process and published on their own. It seemed like more. They jumped for the iPads. But was it for the technology or was it for writing.

So this week, I asked — What is good about writing?

I like how it comes together at the end.

I thought I knew something, but after writing it I knew so much more.

 I like writing about myself. I think I should write a book.

It helps me express my emotions.

Telling stories I want to read.

It makes me feel free. .

Writing stories in my journal.

Getting to write what I want to write.

Showing my accomplishments.

Going back and making it better.

Getting lots of comments! .

Getting it done.

I asked: What are the struggles?

Knowing what to write.

Sometimes there are no words..

I want to share, but I don’t know how.


Getting started.

Getting stuck.


Is it writing love? Maybe not yet.

Do they like writing more than the beginning of the year?  I’m going to boldly say yes.

Is there more I can do? Absolutely.

I need to wear the love of writing as I have for reading, to quote Lucy Calkins, “on my sleeve.” It needs to be bigger. I need to really write before their eyes. And fail. And try again. They need a real live model. I really haven’t done this enough. There are moments but it isn’t enough.

To be honest, I’ve been that model as a reader. Reading with them. Discovering and loving books with them.

Writing needs to be apparent and heartfelt:  a shared place and space we love and grow together.

This week I celebrate my student writers and our growing writing lives. We have a way to go, but i think I’ve found a possible pathway.

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Happy Saturday. Enjoy more celebrations on Ruth Ayers’ blog here.





Celebrate: The Power of Assessments, Part 2

Time to Celebrate this Week with Ruth Ayers.

celebrate link up

It has been a long, short week. So much was packed into four days.


This week was filled with reading and writing assessments. Assessments keep me up at night for many reasons. I wrote about the pain of inappropriate assessments on Tuesday.  But on the flip side, results of assessments, when viewed with understanding and as a marker of growth on a continuum of learning, are reason to celebrate. 

This week I saw my students’ thinking as they wrote about their reading. I saw how each student approached the text. I saw growth and meeting of benchmarks. This matters. Students need to see their growth. But more importantly, teachers need to find next steps for students. So I record their scores to track their progress, and set that aside. What I spend time with and celebrate this weekend are the areas of need, the next step for each child and the puzzle of how to get there.


Our informational writing unit came to an end and students celebrated by commenting on each other’s posts.  Students tend to notice the mistake rather than the strength or comment so generally it means very little.  I wanted them to not only comment in a positive way, but to learn something in the process. Taking a tip from Melanie Meehan, I cut up our TCRWP checklists and put them on cards .

2015-01-16 17.34.54Then, I invited students to find something a student did well that was on a card and complement them, by identifying what they did as a writer. After working on these for a while I found myself calling them “complement cards.” I started to ask students, have you written a complement or a connection to a post. Inadvertently I had renamed our work. This week I celebrate the renaming of comments. We no longer comment on posts, we complement or make connections.


At the end of any writing unit I ask students to write an on demand piece.  I invited them to write about any topic they felt they are an expert in. Their only constraint was the time, 45 minutes. Without prompting, many pulled out their genius hour notebooks, filled with notes on their passion projects. One student asked, can we put this on the blog? Never have I had a student ask to put an assessment on the blog. This week I celebrate the power of genius hour learning: time students choose what they want to learn. Given opportunity, resources and choice students can create their own learning.

And finally...

All this week my students wrote about their one little words. So much has come out in this process. Their posts are raw, exposed. The choices they make are so telling.

The reason why I choose powerful is because if I do something hard I could look at my word, then it will tell me that I am brave and that nothing is going to take me down. It will also tell me that I am brave and I won’t back down and if I struggle a lot I can look at the muscle and that means I am strong and I am very powerful. So that’s why I picked it because sometimes I struggle a lot, so that’s why I picked the word, so it will make me brave and my word. I know some people struggle with stuff and adults also struggle a lot, so I picked it because I knew it would help me and make me better when I am working. And if I get stuck I can look at it and it tells me I am strong I can beat any hard stuff and it will make me confident.  Now I like the word and I love the word😊 because I know it will help me throughout the year of elementary so yay👍.

So yay and happy weekend!



Celebrate: A Fresh Start for 2015

It’s Saturday and time to Celebrate this week with Ruth Ayers. Find other celebration posts herecelebrate link up

Five things I loved about last week.

ONE: A clean, organized closet and garage.  I go through this process every year, but I don’t believe I have ever seen our garage as clutter free as it is now. Everything has a place and it is put away. I know it won’t last, but for now it is quite refreshing.

TWO:  Not having to set an alarm. Nuff said.

imagesTHREE: My cute little Chromebook, a Christmas present for my classroom.  We have iPads which I am grateful for, but I have high hopes for this little baby. iPads have their powers, but to write, to blog they have limitations. I hope the kids take to the Chromebook as I have with its great keyboard and internet search abilities. And I hope for more of these lovely little devices. Maybe it will inspire some to buy one for their homes or for our classroom. As long as you have wifi access, for  about $200 they are a sweet deal.

FOUR: One little word(s) have been sprouting up everywhere on Twitter. Many of you who celebrate weekly have been doing it for years. I tried it out for the first time last year.  I love the simple idea that one little word can guide your thinking, your focus for the year. It’s sort of a mantra, a subtle undertone, or  soundtrack for your year. Last year, my OLW, wonder led me on a great journey, and it is still with me. This year I’m growing my ideas around my new OLW, listen. I loved listening to Elise Cripe interview Ali Edwards on her OLW journey.  Check out Ali’s blog foe some wonderful resources.

FIVE: Beginning #Nerdlution15. Last year nerdlution was born as a way to spread the nerdy (think Nerdy Book Club) attitude in other places of our lives. The idea is to commit to something for 50 days in order to create a new habit or mindset. This year I chose just one goal: to write about a word (of my choosing) every day.  My “rules” are here.


created by Kristi Mraz

Today’s word: Mediate.

Mediate. In the middle.Often between two extremes. Looking to find a point where both sides are at ease. The job of a mediator is one who has to guide or help find that sweet spot of comfort. Where the polar opposites can sit beside one another in peace. I have been the mediator. This has been my job of late, to mediate. I picked up the phone to call my brother. Not an easy call. Part of mediating seems to be measured honesty. I know that does not sound complete. Maybe it is better to see steps in mediation as sticking your toe in the water, just a bit. Showing a bit of the truth, getting people used to the idea so they can put themselves a little further into the lake. One person on one side, the other across the lake. Mediation takes place on the wooden raft in the middle. To get there it is a bit scary for all parties and the mediator has the very difficult job of coaxing each party closer towards that warm safe raft in the middle.


Happy Celebrations and Nerdlutions to all.

Celebrate This Week and Year End 2014

This is the last week to celebrate 2014. I have enjoyed reading celebration posts all year. Thank you to all who share and thank you Ruth, for hosting this rejuvenating ritual.  Read more Celebrate posts here.

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First: When everyone is home, life is slow and lazy and loud. We eat, talk, read, watch movies, and sleep in.  Today, I celebrate a home that is filled up and lived in.

Secondly:  It is wonderful to watch someone open a gift and knowing, just by the expression on their face, it is a perfect match. My daughter is an expert at this kind of matchmaking. Most importantly she  loves doing it.  I celebrate her loving and gift-giving spirit.

Being the last Celebration Saturday of 2014, I thought I’d dig in to my blog, as a personal retrospective. As a rather unscientific way of culling through my thoughts in 2014, I searched posts for key words. There is some cross over, but still interesting. Listed in order of frequency of mention, highest being 146, lowest 20:

  1. Writing
  2. Reading
  3.  Writing about reading
  4. Wonder
  5. Twitter
  6. Colleagues
  7. Read Aloud
  8. Listening
  9. TCRWP
  10. Student Blogging
  11. Poetry
  12. Reading Logs
  13. Genius Hour
  14. Common Core

Blogging is, in part a tool for reflection. Reflecting on my reflecting, I’m pleased, to a degree, and not totally surprised. Some items that didn’t score as highly as I would have liked were “student engagement” receiving only seven mentions, and “growth mindset” mentioned only three times. Something to think about as I enter the new year.

Another thing I spent time with this week was this compilation of TED talks: a year in ideas. It is a wonderful taste of TED in 2014 — informative and inspirational. Find a few that intrigue you and enjoy!

Of the ones I’ve watched so far these two hit me hardest. Funny and tragic and something that lingers with me as I think about the year to come.


Happy 2014!

Celebrate: Natural Endings

This week, celebrating is a natural thing to do.

One: I celebrate the hard work and team work it takes to perform in front of others.

  • All 120 students performed four times for friends and family, reciting the preamble to the Constitution and the fifty states and capitols.
  • All 120 students ran a mile, a traditional fifth grade race, with the entire school cheering them on.

For some students these tasks were easy. Some are natural performers and athletes. But for most, this took a bit of courage and perseverance.  They were nervous, jumping and pacing before each event. For these moments they were all stars.

Two: I celebrate storytelling as a pathway to learning and writing. Students had researched and written reports about Westward Expansion, but their work was rather lifeless. Their voice was lost in the facts and dates they had taken in. Most did not connect the various parts.

Inspired by a post from Steve Peterson, on the power of narrative in content learning, and a visit from our TCRWP staff developer Katie Clements, who worked with us to help students find their own voice in writing about reading,  I decided to celebrate their writing  through storytelling.

I gave students paper, markers and invited them to tell the story of Westward Expansion.

2014-12-18 09.02.07Most students split the project up into the pieces they knew well. Then they presented their stories to the class. All were unique.  Some told the story as a chronology. Some told pieces of the story as cause and effect, while others saw their part as a problem with needed solutions.

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The hardest part for students to articulate was how the story connected.  As students presented, we kept track of ideas. After each group we looked for patterns that led students to see more about how the story might fit together.

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I was fascinated by this process. Structure was a natural outgrowth. Voice was present in the drawings and the presentations. These elements that I struggled to capture instructionally came out as students revised their work by telling the story together. After their presentations, all saw the need to revise their writing.


Three: I celebrate the joy in giving gifts. Students came early to class on Friday, arms filled with presents. They begged me to open them. I loved the mugs, the candy, and the ornaments made just for me.

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I gave students a set of personalized pens.  Finding their name, first and last, embossed on a pen amazed them. “How did you do this?!!”

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Four: I celebrate the end of our read aloud: Wonder. We had a lot to finish in the Julian chapter, but students sat rapt, begging to go on. I was glad to oblige and sipped tea to keep my voice alive. Between the two classes, I spent nearly two hours reading aloud. Not a bad way to end 2014.

Five: I celebrate winter break and the time with family. I’m ready to let 2014 wind down; reflect, relax and look forward.

Thank you Ruth Ayers for the opportunity to Celebrate This Week. Find other celebrations here.

Happy holidays.

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