Celebrate: Change

This week the instructional day was shortened due to parent-student conferences. Change in routine can be disruptive and uncomfortable, but it can also create an opportunity for growth.

First, the simple– PE was done at the start, rather than the end of the day. A large part of me hated the idea.  Another part of me said, consider it an experiment. We’d talked about the possibility of exercise before class. Would it be beneficial? Get the blood flowing so to speak.

The cool but sunny weather was perfect for stretching and a 10-minute walk, jog. Afterward, we entered the classroom noticeably quiet. Almost calm. Was it the exercise? Later in the week, I asked students for their thoughts.

There was a fair amount of, “Yes! It’s much better than the afternoon when it’s hot.”

There was a lot of head nodding and “it feels good” comments.

As well as, “Can we still play games on Friday?

Exercise doesn’t come up as one of those strategies for teaching reading and writing. But I know my focus is greatly improved after exercise. This disruption in our long engrained schedule was a good thing. Time for a change.

Now, the complex — During parent conferences, students shared their writing process and product. From what I could determine, this was joyous. Students had outdone themselves with revision. Comments like, “I thought I was done, and then I realized…” warmed my teacher-writer heart. Students would read their work aloud, see a needed change, and on their own, fix it with their parent beside them. Students shared their blog posts. Some boasted of being a top blogger. Students read their reading responses and commented on how they did it.

Parents asked: What can I do to help my child?

That’s easy. Read with them, read their writing, talk to them.

Parents asked: Are they where they should be?

That’s tough. I believe where students should be is on a trajectory of consistent growth. But that’s not what the parent is asking. And, I understand.  It’s every parent’s concern. These kiddos are going off to middle school next year. That’s a scary time. They’re worried. Will they make it?

For a short period in a child’s life, a teacher defines a child’s learning space and has a hand in how they develop as a learner. That’s a very big deal.

Which leads to the most difficult question: Are you (the teacher) doing enough?

I ask myself that question all the time. But do I ask it with the focus on that one child, their child?

Painful questions, but an opportunity to be a better teacher for their child.

This week I celebrate the unexpected growth that can come with change. Read more celebrations here on Ruth Ayres Discover Play Build link up.

celebrate link up




Celebrate: Student-Parent Conferences

Every weekend I land here for reflection. Thank you, Ruth, for the space to meet with others and share.  We need to take the time to stop and notice the good. It’s always there even when things aren’t just right yet. Click here to read more celebrations.

celebrate link up

I deal with little humans. Little in stature and little in experience. They are new to the game. Their “newness” is a gift and a challenge.  That’s why parenting and teaching are the best and hardest jobs.

This week was all about conferring with students and parents. Together. Two parents, often a sibling or two, flanking the child. I’m there with my partner teacher. All eyes on this little person.

Some students revel in the spotlight. Ready and willing to share all they have done and all they plan to do.

Other students worry. Their eyes downcast.

We, teachers and parents, want the best for the child in front of us.

Sitting in the teacher’s seat, I am grateful for being a part of a child’s learning life. A year has been handed to me. I’m honored.

Parents love their child with every inch of their being. They worry. The love and worry manifests in many ways. Are they on grade level?  What does my child need to work on? What can we do?

I start by asking, “How’s the year going?”

Students share.  Some without hesitation.  Others with one-word answers. “Good.”

Then, “Say more about that.”

If we listen, we hear some answers.

Me: What are your reading goals?

T: To track the problems and how the character deals with them.

Me: How have you have done that? Maybe share a read aloud story.

T goes on to discuss Yard Sale by Eve Bunting. He recounts the problem: they have to sell everything because they are moving to a small apartment. How the character handled this: at first she was upset, and then she understood.

Me: So why do you think the family had to move out of the house to the small apartment.

T: Hmmm. Maybe because they need to go to a nicer neighborhood?

Me: Maybe. Or maybe…

T: Hmmm. Maybe… I’m not sure.

Me: Why might someone move from something big with lots of stuff to something small with less?

T: (Long pause.) I don’t know.

Me: Could it be something to do with money?

T: Oh yeah, maybe taxes got too high. Or maybe someone lost a job.

Me: Maybe. The author didn’t tell us, did she. She’s asking us to figure it out on our own. Sometimes we need to take what the writer gives us and fill the holes they leave with our understanding of the world. When we do that, we interpret the story, and it becomes ours.

All the while parents are listening.

Me: When we work on filling the holes the author leaves us, it’s called inferring.

I look at the parents. “Does that help?”

They nod.

The good news, he’s growing, and we know what to work on. The better news, you’ll be there to see it.

That’s the beauty of parenting and teaching.

This week I celebrate the gift of students, parents and teachers who give time to listen and learn together.

Celebrate: Endings and Beginnings, Again and Again

Happy Saturday. It’s time to Celebrate with this week with Ruth Ayres. Two wonderful things to look forward to every week. Read more celebrations here.

celebrate link up

This week was full, yet passed in an instant.

Five things —

1.  The return and departure of our eldest. He flew in on Monday from two months in Europe. Happy, exhausted, and full of life. Today he left for Santa Cruz. Our reunion was brief and a bit fractured (time in little pieces, here and there), but good. He seems settled and ready to move into the next phase of his life. With that feeling, it is easier to let him go.

2. The return of my car. Two “kids” home and driving meant that I have been car-less. As much as it really doesn’t matter, and I don’t particularly like or need to drive, something about having my car back gives me a sense of control and order.

3. The homecoming of my parents. Both were in the hospital. Sunday they came home. Fragile, but happy. My dad’s lovely nurse Rayna said it all, “Getting old isn’t easy.” That’s an understatement. They have been married nearly 60 years and are still entertain each other. Lucky them, lucky us.

4.  The end of parent conferences. It was two long weeks of meeting with families, 58 in all. I want to celebrate the dedication of these families. Everyone made time: took time off, did what was necessary and made their child a priority.  Only one parent asked where their child “ranked” in the class and only two asked what their grades would be. Most wanted to hear about how learning was going from their child, not from me. In most cases I felt more like a facilitator not like a validator or judge. In situations where students weren’t meeting expectations yet, we worked on next steps. All worth celebrating.

5.  The beginning of fall. You have to pay attention to notice fall in Southern California. We don’t get the vivid colors. Most trees are evergreen. Air temperatures change subtly.  Darkness sneaks up on us sooner and lasts a bit longer. The fog hangs on the coast. Things seem a bit calmer, quieter, providing a respite from summer.

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Celebrate: Five Things This Week

Celebrating this week with Ruth Ayres is a weekly ritual. Last week I missed it.  So here’s to catching up with five things to celebrate this week. Find more celebrations here.

celebrate link up

ONE — My daughter passed her driving test. This means she is driving me to school, rather than the other way around. Strangely the added bonus here is time to catch up and have time with her. She appreciates the car and I appreciate the time. A good deal for both of us.

TWO — Our classroom Scholastic News magazine has finally come in and we are loving the weekly informational read. I can’t recommend this magazine enough. It does cost, but the high interest content and well designed articles adds up to perfect for informational text reading and mentor text for writing.

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THREEStudent blogging is a huge bonus to our writing workshop. Students reading students’ writing makes the writing real and responsive. My students have been so fortunate to connect to the classroom blogs of teachers Erin Varley, Margaret Simon and Michelle Haseltine. So much learning going on and they love it!

FOUR — Thursday Genius Hour time has become the place we work on passion projects: what we are passionate about or frustrated with. Many students are bothered by people being “mean” or “just not right.” This applies to people, animals, and their community.

One boy, who is usually very social, was sitting by himself during Genius Hour time. I walked over to him and asked what he was working on. He said it really bothered him how people act better than others. “It makes me feel bad.” To fight this he came up with the “Awesome Project” or how to make people feel awesome. He’s not quite sure how to do this but I love the idea.

Another group is writing a play to about bullying. Another group wants to fund a camp for kids who have challenges (they aren’t sure what challenges or how to fund it but that’s part of the process). There are groups that want to improve on Mindcraft, perhaps letters to the developer.

Many thanks to Joy Kirr and her genius hour treasure trove of resources. If you have any interest in doing this kind of work, click here.

FIVEParent conferences are in full swing.   While there is so much to cover and it is stressful, today I want to celebrate the huge value these conferences bring to teachers. Hearing parents’ concerns and students thoughts offer a surprising opportunity for assessment. In one conference I asked,

Me -So tell us about your reading.

S – Half and half.

Me – So what’s one half?

S – I half struggle and half get it.

Me – Say more.

S – In Huck Finn I got it, it was good. But in Tuck Everlasting I struggled.

In the end, we talked about what the struggle was specifically, how often this happens and what to do about this. Just like teaching, I’m realizing my whole positioning on parent conferences need to be reorganized in my brain: less on me telling more on me listening.

Happy weekend!




Slice of Life: Parent Conferences, What’s the Verdict?

It’s Tuesday, time for Slice of Life. Thank you to Dana, Stacey, Betsy, Anna, Tara, and Beth at Two Writing Teachers Blog. Read more slices and contribute your own here.


Today’s slice marks the first day of parent conferences.

To prepare, I pull together a sort of paint by numbers portrait of each child.

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It’s a snapshot of mastery of the standards at this point. Some students are very “photogenic” in the classroom environment. Others, just don’t look good in this light. They need a different space or perhaps time to show their real colors, their true beauty.  This parent conference moment is just that, a moment in time with one set of expectations and measures. Is this measurement what will matter or measure a child’s potential for the world they will soon be participating in?  A world they will contribute children to that may end up in our future classrooms; a world that will support their parents (and us) in old age.

For all this data (and it does provide direction to teach with), it isn’t the picture that parents hold in their hearts. When parents walk in and ask, “How are they doing?” It’s with the child’s yesterday, today and tomorrow swirling around in their heart.  You see it in their eyes. They are looking for confirmation that it’s going to be okay. They don’t want their child to fight the battles and make the mistakes they did. They want their child’s path to be better.

The child sits next to their parent, wanting more than anything to please. Some get teary and you’re not even sure why. Perhaps they are beginning to feel the burden they can’t begin to articulate.

You talk with each parent wrapped up with what matters more than anything to them. I’ve known their child for nine weeks — two hours each school day. I’m just learning who they are and their parents are looking expectantly at me to give them a verdict.  Will they make it?

We talk about growth and goals.

We talk about concerns and next steps.

We talk about student’s dreams, about middle schools to apply to, about times when their child felt proud of an accomplishment, of how to help that child find those moments of pride.

While the mastery of standards matter, when I really think on what matters most, what we want each child to walk out with, is the sense of pride in accomplishment; the knowledge that they can make it and that they matter. As much as they depend on us now, we will soon be depending on them.

So much is at stake. I feel lucky to have families that care so deeply. It is their past, present and our future.


Slice of Life: Thank You Mr. Flagler

It’s Tuesday and time for Slice of Life with Two Writing Teachers. Thanks to Dana, Tara, Stacey, Betsy, Anna, and Beth for the wonderful place to meet up. Read more slices and link up with your own here.


A few weekends ago Chris Lehman’s EdCollab Gathering presented an online workshop. How lucky we are to have such access to so many powerful ideas and educators. I watched Sara Ahmed’s session on capturing Middle School hearts and minds. She spent 45 minutes highlighting some wonderful ideas she uses in her San Diego classroom that makes me want to preorder her new book, co-authored with Harvey “Smokey” Daniels.

In her session, Sara showed how she and her students create a sort of identity chart or “Me” map. I’ve done things like this before, but I wanted to see if it would help me, and maybe my kiddos, find some inspiration for slicing. Sometimes you just need a new tool!

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I let my map sit for a while.

Then up popped that midnight wakeup call.

It was Wednesday, actually Thursday morning, and my daughter woke me up in a panic.

“Mom, I have to write a five-paragraph essay on Emerson and transcendentalism.”

I kid you not.

Ok, how hard can this be. I weave into her room heart pounding from the adrenaline surge still coursing through me. I pull out the text book. Oh my. An excerpt from Emerson’s Nature is three pages amidst this massive 600 page, 10 pound text that covers all of American Literature in tiny pieces.

My reaction: Can we Google it? Seriously isn’t that what any resourceful person does?

Googling was forbidden.

Ok. I try to read the text and make sense of the rubric. It was way above my reading level, at least at 1 am.

I don’t think I could pass 11th grade AP English.

Certain that all her hopes and dreams were destroyed, she dissolved into tears, cursed my ineptitude and wished her brother was home to help.

I went to bed.

The next evening, she presented me with a well-written piece. But how?

“I just talked to my friends. Each told me their interpretation of the text. I thought the text through with that in mind  and wrote it.”

Brilliant. She has her own PLN.  This girl will survive.

The happy ending was filed away.

Meanwhile, my reader self and my teacher self all coalesced with Sunday’s #titletalk chat on reading levels; triggering some older memories.

When I was 10 years old, I wasn’t much of a reader and not much of a test taker. By today’s standards, I would not have met Common Core expectations.  If I was a young person today, my very literate, educated parents would have worried about low scores (because I probably would have had them), blamed it on the media or maybe the teacher.  I wouldn’t have measured up.  Had I been given my daughter’s English assignment at 16, I mostly likely would have failed and had another reason not to like reading.

Fortunately I didn’t have that text as an 11th grader. I had a teacher who read short story with us: complete, unabridged stories by Hemingway. We read and discussed as a class. We wrote. We were taught as long as we had support for our theories in the text, our point of view would be considered. It was a community of readers, talkers, and thinkers. It was fun. This class made me want to pursue literature classes in college.  Mr. Flagler changed my reading path.

As parent conferences and the grading period approaches, I will tell my students and their parents the story of my 10-year old self. That we measure student’s reading level only as a tool to understand how to help them become better reader; not to measure their worth or their future success. That we spend our year focused on growing their love of reading while working on their reading skills, so they want to do and can do more of it as they go through their school years and beyond.

I am grateful for my 11th grade literature teacher and will keep him and my experience close as I confer with my students. Thank you so much Mr. Flagler. For allowing me to fall in love reading and the possibility it holds out for all of us. I hope I can measure up.

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.

Celebrating Randomness

Every Saturday Ruth Ayers hosts bloggers who look back on their week with an eye for moments to celebrate. It is a wonderful way to honor, to notice and celebrate all the good things that happen. Click here and find out how you can start this practice. 
celebrate link up

This week’s list seems random. No real theme here. Just life. Kinda nice.

1. Parent Conferences are almost over and, in my opinion, overwhelmingly successful. Students led their conference by talking about their progress and their work to date. Students worked in front of their parents, evaluating their work right there on the spot. Goals were stated relative to Common Core expectations and in most cases the next steps involved in meeting the goal was discussed in a “how do you think you could achieve this goal” and “what can we do on Monday to start reaching this goal”  manner.

This was a one-on-one conference my students with parents listening intently. Data was gathered for teaching, parents attentiveness was clear and if nothing else this spotlight on their child was appreciated by both parents and students. The level of anxiety was apparent with some of the students, but most parents felt it was important for them to be able to talk about their work.

Only a few parents asked what grade their child would be receiving.  The focus was on the work and the process of learning. What could be a better thing to celebrate in education.

So much of this work was aided by a questionnaire the student’s filled out prior to the conference. It got them thinking and was used by some to talk from during the conference. I developed my conference  forms from the forms provided by Pernille Ripp in her post on how to do parent conferences. Thanks again Pernille and Leigh Ann for pointing me in the right direction.

2. Teachers College Reading and Writing Project released their Summer Institute Brochure  and videos of their work aligned with the Charlotte Danielson framework for teaching. Wow on both counts. Here’s to celebrating the continuing work of TCRWP and Lucy Calkins. Always challenging themselves and reaching for more. Now the tough work of choosing which institute.

3. My colleague Cathy started a blog. I’m so proud of her for jumping in and doing something for herself and the education community. I celebrate Cathy who is now a creator not just a consumer of media. Check out her blog here. Hopefully she’ll join us at #celebratelu soon.

4. Rain came to Southern California. I heard it the other night. It sounded strange, foreign. I thought, rain… but no, couldn’t be. I looked out and sure enough the ground is wet. Yeah! Our record low rainfall has those who keep track of these things all in a tizzy. While this short burst won’t fix the drought, it was nice to have a little winter-like weather.

5. My daughter’s brace is off and she’s in the pool. Thankfully she’s healing nicely. The surgeon is pleased. While she’s still in physical therapy and has limitations, the first part of this recovery is over. Her  return to the pool was exhausting. I came home to find her in bed at 6:30. She says she’s slow and it’s hard. Hopefully her desire to return to her former swimming self will be rekindled. No matter what she pursues, I’m grateful she is becoming whole again.

6. Next week will be normal, at least in terms of school hours. While conferences were good, teaching time was limited. I celebrate our return to normal school hours and predictability for our students.

Here’s to random celebrations, a wonderful weekend and more for the week ahead.

Celebrating Growth, Goals, Beautiful Endings and Getting Real about Reading

Three things to celebrate in my classroom:

1) completion of parent conferences

2) a satisfying end of a read aloud

3) freedom in reading

Parent conferences are stressful for all parties. My goal was to send a message of growth and goals. I didn’t discuss grades at any point. A form designed to help all parties focus on this helped things go smoothly. conferences 2013  For writing the beautifully designed TCRWP checklist/rubric for narrative writing provided a perfect focal point. Growth was acknowledged, the place on the continuum each child had attained defined. Goals were clearly stated for the next round. For reading running records and lexile levels were discussed around our expectations at this time of the year. But more importantly each student’s writing about their reading (really their thinking about reading) was discussed. In each case, where the student was on the map of expectations was clear. In many cases students weren’t meeting expectations fully, but parents were able to see that that it wasn’t a verdict on their child it was a progression of learning. It wasn’t about grades it was about growth. CELEBRATE!

Our class read aloud, Wonder, came to a close. On Friday, students knew they were coming to the end. They were excited, yet at the end of every chapter they held their breath thinking, is this it? A sign of relief would escape as they saw there was another chapter. It wasn’t the end yet. We all know that wonderful yet painful feeling of getting to a satisfying end but the knowledge that this connection, this world we are living in is coming to a close. Beautiful yet tragic. My students felt this. At this moment, Wonder is the scale by which all books my students read independently will be measured. Does it feel like it did when we read Wonder? Is this character reminding you of a character in Wonder? Does this story connect to ideas in Wonder? You know how you walked away with something you held on to when we finished Wonder? What did you walk away holding on to after reading this book? The effect of Wonder will live on in them not only for the beautiful messages it put forth, but with the experience it gave each and every student of what it means to be a reader. What reading should be.  CELEBRATE!

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This year my students are allowed freedom to go outside their reading level when choosing a book. Students still know their running records level and they take a monthly SRI assessment. But this year, their book selections are not constrained by a levels. This year, I have baskets labeled by interest that are mixed levels as well as leveled baskets. Levels are there to help guide student selection, but not determine it. There will be books that students attempt that are way beyond them even though the book is technically, their level. And by the same token, there are books above their level that they will be able to access if it happens to be in an area they are interested in or have knowledge of. It is more important that students are able to recognize when a book is doable, a good fit. Because of this “liberal” approach to book selection, students are not allowed to finish books that they are struggling with. They must return them because for whatever reason, at this point in their life, the book isn’t right for them.


This “liberal” approach to reading can happen as long as there is 1) direct reading instruction, 2) clear authentic accountability measures that promote reading volume and 3) the student’s knowledge of when reading is a struggle and conversely, when it isn’t pushing them. Reading must be closely monitored with varied assessments beyond running records (conferring, writing about their reading, quick checkups with a title I know well) that lead to small group strategy coaching and direct instruction. Accountability measures such as regular status of the class a la Donalyn Miller, partnership reading, and weekly measurement of reading volume puts an emphasis on reading and reading a lot. These things along with firmly redirecting students to books that will fit their current needs, moves students reading level while making reading not about a level but about finding books that work for them so they can and want to read. This evolution in my view of reading has take a while. Choice has become bigger and levels do not define a reader in my classroom, the choice of books does. CELEBRATE!