Celebrate: Choice Words and Waiting for Stories

It’s the last Saturday before school starts and it’s time to celebrate this week with Ruth Ayers. Thank you Ruth for the opportunity to link up with others who share. Read more celebration posts here.
celebrate link up

This week I’m celebrating Choice Words and waiting for stories.

1. There are stacks of empty notebooks.  They are closed, undecorated, and waiting.

2. Two bags of two pocket file folders They are leaning up against the notebooks, waiting.

3.  Boxes of  pens –  blue Bic ball point and black Flair pens They are capped and waiting.

4. Thirteen iPads – Fully charged, stacked, and waiting.

5. A Library of Books  – informational, realistic fiction, historical fiction, poetry They are in boxes waiting.

The room is empty, quiet, clean. Waiting.

Waiting for 58 students to come and fill up the room with noise, questions, wonderings, ideas. Words that will fill paper, electronic devices, the air and our minds. This is the excitement of the unknown every new school year. All of that possibility of what might be.

Every child walks in looking at those beautiful new notebooks ready to be filled. The new pens ready to spill out words, words, words  and books ready to be explored.

They walk in the first day with hopes and dreams; with wonder of what will be accomplished. They all walk in new. Almost.

Students walk in with stories of what they have been.  How they see themselves. How others see them.  As they walk in, there is hope of new beginnings. That clean slate feeling of all that is possible in a new year.

This week I’ve been re reading Peter Johnston’s Choice Words. Last year what stuck with me was one word, “yet.” I hold that word close because it offers  hope and the acknowledgement of a continuum of growth.

This year the idea of narratives resonated with me: how narratives set us up for success. When we have a sense of agency our personal narratives reflect it. Students who come into a classroom with narratives filled with success or more importantly, stories that show a they are problem solvers have a sense of agency. Their stories might sound like: “it may be hard but, I’m the kind of person who can handle it, figure it out, get it done.” The question is how can we teachers promote this kind of narrative.

This year I’m holding on to these choice words from Johnston:

The heart of a good narrative is a character who encounters a problem and by acting strategically, solves it, usually (but not necessarily) attaining a goal. The following examples of teacher comments are likely to influence the sense of agency children experience in the stories they tell about themselves as literate individuals.

How did you figure that out?

What problems did you come across today?

How are you planning to go about this?

Where are you going with this piece (of writing)?

Which part are you sure about and which part are you not sure about?

Why would an author do something like that?


Next week we will walk into the classroom ready to learn, to become, to create narratives.

This year I’m holding on to the idea of creating narratives that build agency.

This week I’m celebrating Choice Words and waiting for stories.


Celebration: Endings and Beginnings

celebrate link upSaturday, a day to celebrate with Ruth Ayers and all the bloggers who link up with the spirit of celebrating the week.

One — Endings. The Slice of Life March Challenge ended this week. So much growth, connections and writing love was shared. I really miss it. Bittersweet.

Two  — Beginnings. This week has been the beginning of a new experience for me, writing poetry.  I am learning, growing, and having fun with it. I’m not worrying so much about the outcome; looking more at the process of doing. I want to celebrate these poets who inspire and make this  journey a joy check out their blogs:  Leigh AnneMichelleMargaret, Kevin,  Mary Lee, and Cathy.

Three — Student Questions. One big moment in my classroom life this week was a conversation spurred by our read aloud, A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park. The question came up around the concept of government, a shaky idea for fifth graders. The conversation led to power and literacy and the importance of being able to make wise decisions, being thoughtful and responsible citizens. We talked about basing their actions on close careful reading of people and text. That our future depends on it. I don’t know how much my students got from this discussion but the questioning that came up filled me with purpose for what I do and belief in the future.

Four — Quotes that Inspire. Friday evening I read Tara Smith’s post celebrating Jane Goodall’s 80th birthday with Mary Oliver’s poem “When Death Comes.”

What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make. -Jane Goodall

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world. — Mary Oliver

Then this quote from Terje’s blog and highlighted by Ruth today:

Live your life for you not for anyone else. Don’t let the fear of being judged, rejected or disliked stop you from being yourself.” ~Sonya Parker

Five — Finding Poetry. Today I played with ideas from the week. I messed around with order, placement.  Finally, I tried to mimic a poem I shared with my students this week, “First Take” by Jane Yolen, see her reading it here. My students were delighted when they discovered they could read it multiple ways, line by line and then vertically.

Shifting Equilibrium 

Starting at an ending:

always bittersweet;

Beginnings foster challenge:

break throughs and stumbles;

Daughters seek definition:

creating possibility;

Sons separate then settle:

finding deep connected roots;

Students naturally push:

powerful questions unearthed;

Independence requires trust:

shaking up the balance;

Citizen caretakers created:

the landscape redefined.




Slice of Life Day 8: Celebrating the Village and the Child

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hcelebrate link upThe week went fast, as all weeks seem to do. Faster perhaps because it had an extra element added to it: the Slice of Life Daily Challenge. Check out the wonderful slices for day eight here.  This post is also a celebration that I am contributing to Ruth Ayers’ Celebration link-up.  Check out those posts here.

Yesterday I had a parent conference, one of my last of this reporting period. It had been rescheduled several times, but finally I sat down with this interesting boy with his equally interesting mom.

We talked about how he sees himself as a reader. He brought out examples of his recent thinking. Addressed his writing and how he felt he had done well that day in challenging writing. We talked about how he was going to make a plan to read more. How February had been a hard month for the family and March was getting on track. We talked about his weekly religious school commitment and planning for his Bar Mitzvah. (I’m invited.) As we talked, he slurped on his popsicle (a class treat won for good citizenship on the yard). 

Everything about this conference was positive. This student is intelligent and reflective as his is parent.

Looking back at this description you might think this was the well-behaved-made-for-school kid. You know the kind, about 5% of your classroom. He’s not. Not even close. He’s the kind of kid everyone in the school knew from kindergarten on. You knew him because you could hear him the minute you walked in the office. He was there on a regular basis. Challenges, you name it.

But this student sits before me, a model student, reflecting on his work and making plans to improve; looking forward to a three-day field trip with his classmates.

I see lots of troubled kids with good reason for their troubles. They struggle and growth is frustrating and slow. The road is steep and obstacles keep getting thrown in their way; half the time they are just hanging on through each day. Behaviors seen in kindergarten just keep on going, and the trajectory isn’t good.

But this student has grown, tremendously. Why? Lots of support and care by a team including his parent, counseling (privately and at school), a religious community, and a school community that includes a loving office staff, as well as principals and teachers who understand and talk to him.  It has taken, as they say, a village. And a committed village, that did not give up. To think that a school alone, even the best of all possible ones, with the best teachers and staff, could of helped him in this way is just not facing the facts. It took more. School, home, faith and medical communities to move this kid from frustration and anger to success on many days.

He still has his difficult days. You might find him in the hallway, when he should be at lunch, hitting his head against a pole. Those are bad days. Maybe a kid said something, or a math problem took him longer that he thought it should take, or something I tried to teach him about sentence structure made no sense, so he slammed the iPad down on the desk.  Those days happen. But when this happens, a teacher talks to him quietly, maybe takes him to the office, and he has some quiet space to re think. He can do that re thinking and re start not just because of what teachers and staff are doing well at the moment, but because of all the work that has been going on with him for the past 10 years. It has accumulated and built him internally, so he can handle frustration better and come out of it to try again.

Yesterday’s conference left me strangely uplifted. Watching this student be loved, calm and focused just filled me with hope. The challenges will remain. He isn’t there yet, but who is?

Today want to celebrate all of those committed communities and people who comprise them, who love and support. But mostly, I want to celebrate him, how far he has come, and the plans he has made for the future.

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.