Celebrating New Goals, New Structures, Renewed Landscapes and Trust

celebrate link upHere’s to celebrating literacy and trust. Thank you Ruth for creating a space  and ritual. Join us at ruthayerswrites.com to celebrate your week!

#1. My #mustreadin2014 book list.  Ideas are always floating around in my head. My intentions are good. I mean to do it, but I get distracted. I forget, and all of a sudden, time has passed and I missed it. The act of writing it down a list is powerful. I celebrate the Nerdy Book Club posts, the incredible blogging and community that keep me up to date on those must reads, and as a result now I can’t stop finding books to add to my list. Supportive reading buddies Catherine Flynn, Allison Jackson and Erin Varley have already checked in with their progress. I celebrate my books, my new focus on book recommendations, and my book buddies.

#2. A second first day of school. I love coming back from winter break. We miss each other. After three weeks apart, we’re rested and ready to start fresh. While I have big plans for the rest of the year, I take a breath and make a space for them to come in, share, absorb, and celebrate their revitalized selves and classmates.

#3. My Reading Door.

 2014-01-11 07.48.30  2014-01-11 07.49.34  Inspired by my must read list and Donalyn Miller’s Reading in the Wild, I created my reading door.  I can’t wait to see how the kids (and teachers) react to it.  At this point, most of my students don’t think beyond the book they are currently holding in their hands. They don’t plan their future reading, yet.  And who could blame them. I haven’t  shown them the possibility. I’m imagining students developing to be read lists that will reflect a few books at first. With time, hopefully the books will start to accumulate and build till it reaches into the summer months. I celebrate book plans and my lovely book door.

#4. New schedule. Like lists, I need structure. I have great ideas but they just float off if I don’t have a structure to put them in. It keeps me in line, and accountable to my beliefs.  The first half of the year our routine included daily read aloud, vocabulary, reading, writing, Thursday Genius Hour, and Non Fiction Fridays. The new schedule will include two extras — Debate Mondays and poetry Tuesday through Friday.

Debate is a much loved and needed activity. Unfortunately, I haven’t allowed a space for it, so it happens occasionally at best. Now it owns a spot: Mondays after Read Aloud. Can’t wait.

Over the break, I realized that we need poetry. Students love learning vocabulary, so the focus on words and how they go together will be a huge treat — vocab on steroids.  It should also breathe life into writing. and a heightened awareness of language in their independent readingPoetry now lives before writing workshop. I celebrate this space made for the sound and the joy of words coming together. I wonder whether it will inspire poetry entries on the blog.

#5. My re-landscaped library. The beginning of a new year requires a library face lift.   Whenever I reorganize my library I pull out my boxes and find old friends. I set up with a eye for product placement. I want clean new covers to show. Dog eared, much loved books go on a list to be recycled and replaced. Brand new titles are set aside for book talks.

New sections of the library include poetry, biography, magazines, various non fiction baskets, club books covering not only realistic fiction, but a bit of mystery, a taste of fantasy, and a shelf of historical fiction. Hidden away in a box are… drum roll..… graphic novels. I hide these much sought after books the first day back otherwise students wouldn’t be able to focus on much else. They love these books. Everyone wants them. No monitoring on my part is necessary. Every student knows who has each book. They self police, because they all want those books. What a natural for their to be read list! I look out at my new library and smile. I celebrate our renewed space for books.

And last but not least…

#6. My daughter’s first physical therapy appointment post knee surgery. She’s nine days post op and feeling better. Our wonderful physical therapist, Mike, the same guy who rehabilitated my ACL tear nearly 20 years ago, tells her what she need to do. She listens attentively, and with renewed focus and goals she works hard. She trusts him. Trust allows us to give everything we have, knowing someone is there for you. With support, you push to unknown territories.

I enter next week and our new year, with the idea of trust alongside my one little word, wonder. When students trust, they can wonder, asking why and how, and then grow.

The Game Changers

I started out doing a best of 2013 post, but that didn’t work. The whole year was a best of! This year the game changed..


Student Blogging – Blogging has changed the way students see writing. In fact they don’t think blogging is writing. Which in and of it itself is worth inquiry. Blogging is visible and social. The visible part is great for accountability, but the social part makes the difference. It allows for conversation.  One student, who loves to talk, said it made him feel like he was talking to someone else. I’m thinking that is a wonderful way to view writing.

Global Read Aloud –  The connections  made with other classrooms opened student  eyes beyond the small world of their school yard. Sharing one book was just the beginning. Reaching out to kids in different places led to unexpected understandings: timezones, weather, and the powers of technology that can bring us together. Thank you Erin Varley for being a wonderful partner in this work and Pernille Ripp for bringing it all together.

Genius Hour – Every Thursday, for one hour, students can research, learn, and create something that matters to them. This has provided a time for those who are not traditional learners to thrive in a place of their own making. It has pushed those who wait for the teacher to tell them what to do, to step up and push their own thinking. It is a reason for some to come to school. It is something they don’t need to be reminded of. It provides clues as to what their passions really are. Which leads to what book might interest them, what they might want to research or write about,  Read here for more about why this has been a game changer.

I love this  student’s perspective on blogging, Global Read Aloud and Genius Hour. It was my favorite present this year and shows how his game has changed.

No Reading Logs – This was my first and in the end simplest change to reading work. I always hated logs. I knew it worked only for a few, and those students were the ones who would read anyway. The majority either faked it or lost it. Now we record when books are finished. We keep track of our reading by logging finished books and making goals. So far this year my students have read on average 17 books. Some have more books read, some less, but all are reaching for their own personal goals. All are reading more, and without logs. Thank you Katherine Sokolowski for your post on Josh. That gave me permission and the courage to let go of daily logs and let reading not logging create readers.

Making Read Aloud Visible – This was a simple move that has changed the way read aloud goes. I simply purchased my read aloud as a kindle e-book and projected it on the Smart Board. Now students see the words as I read them. Now students see grammar, spelling, punctuation, even font changes and spacing that indicate meaning. Now they hear the text and see it. I love this. Thank you Paul Solarz for this tip and for making so much of your thinking and student work visible.

Making Writing Goals VisibleTCRWP writing checklists and Units of Study have been a big game changer. Students can can pinpoint areas to work on. Through self evaluation students know what they need to work on. The checklists have made this possible.

A Teacher Who Listens More Than Talks – I started the year wanting to let my students guide their learning. This required me to listen more and lean in with questions that spurred not shaped thinking. Keeping my mouth shut and my thinking undisclosed was goal solidified in the #WRRD(What Readers Really Do) chat.   These posts  Student Generated Questions, Read Aloud Inquiry , and  Celebrating the Process of Learning all point to listening more and learning alongside my students.


Twitter – It has been said so many times already, but twitter has been the source of so many tangible and intangible things. To list everything would be impossible. I’m just thankful for it.

Blogs and Blogging- Blogs show me ways of thinking, teaching and being. Blogs have connected me to people, like minded souls who revive my teaching heart and purpose, who introduce me to new ways of doing things, who support me when I feel lost, who accept and welcome me as part of a community of thinkers and writers. I feel honored and blessed.

Here’s to more growth in 2014 and thank you to all who have helped change the game for my students and me in 2013.

Just Thinking…

It is Christmas morning and I’m reading blogs, articles, books. This may seem crazy to you with younger kids and it would have been impossible in the recent past. This Christmas morn I can because of a family agreement of presents at 11 am. That allowed all teenage and twenty somethings to sleep in and us adults to indulge in what we wanted to do. Hence my reading and coffee consumption, two things I love to do. A pretty cool gift for myself.

Here are some of the things that hit me in my wandering reading world.

In Counting by 7s, Willow has found a friend.. “going up and over some kind of barrier after spending too long hitting the thing straight on.” Love that line. It stopped me cold. I re read it and remembered it.  Went back to it. Wrote it, but had to carefully check that I wrote it correctly. My memory initially corrupted the beauty of the line. The actual writing of it made it clearer than the first or second reading.  Note to self about close reading — need to carefully write lines that matter. images-1

Next, courtesy of twitter I found Joy Kirr’s post. Thank you for sharing yourself Joy and for being my personal guru for Genius Hour. Because of you and Hugh McDonald and Gallit Zvi Thursday afternoons are Genius Hour time for the 5th graders at my school. The Genius Hour idea has been like magic. It didn’t take much on my part to launch it, not only in my classroom but in three other teachers’ classrooms. The acceptance of my administration was immediate. My hat is off to them, but it makes me wonder — why was it so easy to hook them in? Other great ideas, like twitter have not caught at my school.

Then I fell into this article from the New Yorker on how ideas grow. It is a long article, but well worth the read. My take aways from this are many. Things that I want to hold on to include:

Ideas don’t spread easily when

— there seems to be no apparent need or the need is invisible. Think germs.

— the effort it takes to try it out is difficult.  Early sterilization techniques were extremely difficult.

But ideas do spread when

— the benefits are obvious to the person who is instigating the idea. Think anesthesia. This idea spread quicker than sterilization techniques because of obviousness of the pain and the better working conditions it provided the surgeon — quiet, paralyzed patients. Could this also be the reason for Genius Hour’s success? The benefits were obvious.

— we trust the person giving us the idea.  There is the sales technique called “the rule of seven touches.” Touch the client seven times to build the relationship before you sell your message. Relationship and trust matter. Could this also be the reason for our school’s easy acceptance of Genius Hour?

The ending of the New Yorker article also struck me. It had to do with getting nurses in developing countries to implement lifesaving changes in their practice. Think could these reactions be from a teacher being visited by a staff developer or administrator?

 “The first day she came, I felt the workload on my head was increasing.” From the second time, however, the nurse began feeling better about the visits. She even began looking forward to them.

“Why?” I asked.

All the nurse could think to say was “She was nice.”

“She was nice?”

“She smiled a lot.”

“That was it?”

“It wasn’t like talking to someone who was trying to find mistakes,” she said. “It was like talking to a friend.”

We are more likely to be open to change when we feel we have a friend helping us. One who isn’t there to find what we are doing wrong.

Strong messages to anyone who is trying to instigate change in students or change in teacher practice.

Just sharing some thoughts on December 25th.

Happy Holidays 2013.

The Best Kind of Gift

celebrate link up


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!

Celebrating Genius Hour’s Pure Genius

Picture this: Halloween, festival games at lunch recess. It’s 1:20 and students are back in class for an hour and 15 minutes. Hmm.  Do you really expect students to want to sit down and learn? Not a problem! It’s Thursday, 1:30 our regularly scheduled Genius Hour time, when students take over their learning.

We started with a tour of a paper city created by Jaden. Each part of the town was described in detail as others sat completely engaged, asking questions.

2013-10-31 13.31.40The forest featured two boys facing a grizzly bear, See that yellow circle on his stomach? That’s the beam of the flash light! he explained.  Oh wow! That is so cool,  Anthony and Damien responded. See this house here? Jaden continued. That’s my brother. He saw me working on it and of course he had to be in it. Wouldn’t you if you were my brother? The town was complete with a baseball stadium, the White House, wood shop and arcade. What more would a boy want?

After the presentation, the call came out for tape, paper, and cardboard.   Two teams of boys continued their work, started the previous week, on a World War II battle scene. One had assigned himself the job of determining the cause of the war. Internet was off, so books met his current needs. Another student’s game board was under development.

2013-10-31 14.25.00Many were creating/designing arcade games. Can you help me measure this? It must be precise. Precise? I think, we’re talking about cardboard, tape and a balled up piece of paper. It needs to stay in the pocket he informed me. Oh.

Play or Learning?

  • Jadenwood was a narrative with elaboration and craft moves through out.
  •  The causes of World War II require research and reading.
  • Arcade and board games are design, engineering and problem solving — creating something that matches your vision. 
  • Articulating a vision and the problems encountered in executing that vision can be challenging for anyone particularly English language learners. Having the idea is one thing but being able to describe it so others can help and understand your thinking is essential no matter what your perspective.

The work is completely directed by students. I help with materials and sometimes technical assistance, such as cutting cardboard. They often start their projects in class and work on them at home. No one is reminded that Genius Hour is on Thursday. Mostly they want me to know what they are up to and schedule their presentations.

This is our first year doing Genius Hour. A year ago, this work was unknown and unimaginable to me. At this point it is decidedly low tech. I love the power of a cardboard box.

Given a little time, and many failed attempts, something quite amazing can come out of Genius Hour. The process is evolving. My challenge is to become a better facilitator of their pursuits. Bottom line, I believe all students have hidden super powers. It’s my job to help them find them. Genius Hour is a very good start.

Thank you to Joy Kirr, Hugh Mc Donald, Gallit Zvi and Angela Maiers for all of your work and genius inspiring teachers like me to take a leap for our students.