Celebrate: Doing it Better

Every day I cull through papers.
Sort, staple and put into colored-coded folders.
Every day I think back to move forward.

Some days, it takes a night to figure out.
Some days, it takes all week.
Some days, I’m still trying to figure out.
And some days, I’ve seen before. But the memory isn’t rekindled.
Afterward, I think, oh if I could only go back and do it better. Just as I wished the first time it happened. Oh to see the repetition in the moment.
This is my hope at the end of some days.

This week my students reflected on a unit of study. They self-assessed and added in their next step.  Each and everyone went to an uncomfortable place. They held their words up and compared them to the ideal. It is complicated work. The thinking and the comparing can be painful. This week, my students stepped up after that hard work and added in what would make them better, showing their resilience and courage.

As I look back on my week, a teacher of these brave souls, my students are my mentors. Today I compare my teaching to the teacher I want to be and write in my plan book, a reflection for next year, so when the moment that is a memory happens, and I will see it and do it better.

Thank you, Ruth, for your Celebrate this Week link up. Your call is a gift. Read more celebrations here.


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: The Summertime Migration of a Teacher

Happy weekend! It’s time to Celebrate this Week with Ruth Ayers. celebrate link upThis week I celebrate cleaning up my classroom and the pleasures of viewing my year in reverse.

Packing up the books we loved is physical and emotional exercise. Those beautiful books that ended the year are tucked away for the time when the new crop of kiddos will be ready for them. Books stacked in carefully marked boxes will be presents to opened next school year.  Slowly, the classroom library disappears inside and on top of cabinets.

Picture books, potential read alouds, and professional texts I can’t part with I put on the things-to-take-home table.


Pulling out the work we did over the year, I’m pleased and surprised with all we did. I stack up genius hour projects, paper blogs, comic strips about Westward Expansion, reading reflections, annotations on poetry as possible mentor texts.

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A handful of student work (high, medium and not so medium) I add to the take home pile.

Charts are piled high on one table.  I repost each one on the whiteboard, snap a picture, and put it in the recycling bin.

iPads need to be stored and cleaned out. Going through the customized screen savers and camera rolls, I see remnants of the students they were. Silly videos, Canva designs they made, word clouds, the histories of their digital lives in 5th grade. It’s better than a yearbook!

Four boxes sit on the carpet. They contain the reading and writing histories of my incoming students. Running records and writing notebooks are my summer homework. They allow me a very privileged peek at the future.  I see what they love, how they doodle, their “one sunny day” stories, their firsts and lasts, their heart maps, and the sentences they crafted over the year.


These treasures are loaded on a cart outside my classroom.

I close the door, hand over the keys, and roll the cart to my car.

As I leave the parking lot, my classroom village is dismantled, and my car is filled. I celebrate the seasonal shift of a teaching life. The pace and the purpose changes. It’s time to look backward and plan forward.

Thank you, Ruth, for your link up and the joyful, reflective practice of weekly celebration. Read more here.

New Year, Next Steps

recite-12936-765988298-tnu77rI always question my actions; whether or not it is the best thing, the right thing. While I don’t believe there is one way, I do believe there are things to aspire to, goals to reach for.

A new year is a great time to review the goals: where we are right now and where we want to be next year.

FIRST:  Students need to understand what it means to be swept away in a book and to know that books are a way to experience and improve their world.

Right now: all students don’t always feel that swept away feeling, BUT they all know that feeling. Every student in my classroom loves graphic novels and read aloud. These are the gateway drugs. The trick is getting these habits to bridge to other reading  domains.  While all students can’t reach these expectations in all reads, they know what it feels like to read, to comprehend, to enjoy a book.

Next year, I want to move students toward finding books that meet their interests; to become proactive in their search for reads. I want students to grow their thinking about the world through reading. I want to students to move their questions in fiction towards answers for and within their world. I hope to create pathways that students will take naturally: using literature to lead to personal action or to research questions that were provoked by fiction.

Next year, I want students to build better relationships with and through literature. My students don’t all get along.  Kindness can be lacking. I believe they don’t see kindness as often as they should; they aren’t really acquainted with it.  Selfishness can be very natural. Sometimes it’s about survival. In our classrooms we need teach kindness. We need to notice and name it; model it, practice it, and work toward independence. Without kindness, most students, most people don’t have much of a chance. We live with each other, our actions effect each other deeply. Imagine the classroom with “behavior problems.” That is the classroom with very little kindness; one that is filled with selfish disruption. If I have to justify the teaching of kindness, that would be my reason. But honestly, without a good dose of kindness, what kind of a life are we creating. Not one I want for my students or me.

SECOND:  Students need to be able to communicate their feelings and ideas in writing.

Right now: Students love blogging and they are proficient writing about their passions. Generally speaking they know how to structure informational and opinion work.

Next year: I want students to become better listeners. They are social beings and want to talk to each other through their writing. They just aren’t listening. Perhaps that starts with their own writing. Students write but struggle to go back and listen to their writing. Getting those ideas out is hard. Still we need to listen to what we write. To make sure what we said is what we want.

Next year: I want students to listening to each other’s writing and respond to what was said in a way that builds writers and relationships. While it is hard for students to listen to their own words, it is even harder to listen for another’s words. This goes back to the need for kindness and understanding when commenting on another’s writing.

Next year: I want technology to help students more than it has. We have iPads and blogging, but we need more. We will be FINALLY going to Google docs and testing out a new Chromebook. I’m so excited for this new tech that will make the physical work of writing easier.

THIRD:  Students need to have goals that matter to them.

Whenever I struggle with something, anything I try to take note of what keeps me going. What stops me from giving up. Reaching goals no matter how small the goal makes me feel good and willing to keep trying.

Right now:  In reading, students have benchmarks in terms of number of books read and levels. Students have looked at their reading habits in the classroom and at home and have set some personal goals. There are expectations as to writing about reading that are not always met. In writing students use checklists and exemplars. Students love genius hour but have not set up goals or expectations which has led to some questioning of the work.

Next year: We need to set up systems to monitor the personal reading goals as to genre, volume and writing about reading. The goals are there they set them we just need to monitor them or they are useless.

Next year: Students set personal reading goals, but they haven’t done this for writing.  Writing is a unit-driven process in the classroom, and that is good. But students need to grow their writing outside of those units in an authentic way. Genius hour might be one way to build in authentic personalized writing work.

I believe with these goals. standards will be authentically reached for, and learners will emerge.

A few other things on my mind as I start the new year …

  1. Students need to become more conscious of their learning process.
  2. Steps learners need to take to get to their goal are personal and varied.
  3. Listening well is my biggest challenge




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.

celebrate link up

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!

Slice of Life: Reflecting and Reality

I stand in the kitchen, thinking:  Slice of Life. What could I write? I’m confused right now. But knowing that we, my students and I, are going to start a four-week cycle of Slice of Life blogging (thank you Tara for your inspiration), I knew I had to write if for no other reason than to experience writing when I don’t know what to say, or when what I have to say isn’t the best thing. So I write.

My reality, when I step back and really look, is often not as bad or as good as I thought.

Last week I viewed a writing workshop lesson I had done. Before I watched, I felt pretty good about it. It was a lesson with all the bells and whistles and tons of conferring work. Then I watched it. I saw some good, but what I saw and heard made me cringe. My voice. Stop talking is all I could think. So I’m pushing myself, once again, to take more of a backseat approach and just let things move without my every direction and correction.

Today, we read aloud a great part of Wonder.  Students were engaged; loving the book. Then recess and lunch happened.  

Students returned, pink cheeked, sweaty, loud outside the classroom door. On their desks was feedback on work they did last week. They came in. I waited for them to settle. I asked them to review the comments, jot responses in their notebooks, and then get to reading.  They had books and time. They know how this goes. I waited, so I could get conferring started. I waited. Redirected. Waited some more. Watched. Redirected again. Waited. Finally I had had enough and I brought in the moves to make them settle. They felt the bit of disappointment and irritation in my voice. 

I expected students to be self directed after lunch and recess. A recess filled with drama. A recess so far removed from the moments of our read aloud and our classroom space. What was I thinking? While they should have been able to settle sooner, the move I was asking them to make was too much, right now. They couldn’t make the turn from play outside to quiet thoughtfulness in a book.

This evening I cleaned. I do that when I’m frustrated. Solution? Next steps?  My thoughts were going like this: I really don’t want to tell them how to move, how to breathe, how to take every step when they know how it goes.

But, do they really know how this goes?  They may know what is expected, but have they ever learned how to settle on their own. You’d think I’d see this sooner, but this is an aha moment. My thoughts and goals, that are down the road a bit, colored my expectations rather than the reality. We need the baby steps, Oops, I forgot.

Sorry guys. I get it. I think. And after writing, I can see a little better.

Thank you Dana, Tara, Betsy, Stacey, Anna and Beth at Two Writing Teachers for this space that helps me reflect and self correct, again and again. Read more slices and share your own here.11454297503_e27946e4ff_h

Reflections on My Year Part 2: Reader’s and Writer’s Notebooks

I’ve been thinking a lot about Reader’s Notebooks and how my students used them.  I’ve wanted the Reader’s Notebook to show students’ thinking about and process while reading; ultimately showing their growth as readers over the year. Now I’m wondering, after reading and rereading Linda Rief’s book Read, Write, Teach, if I have overlooked something important. In Rief’s 8th grade classroom, students have a WRN, a Writer’s-Reader’s Notebook that co-mingles their reading responses and their writing entries. Would this work for 5th graders? Could my students’ reading lives feed their writing lives? Could this mix create better readers?

I had to try this out. Honestly, authentically. But first a  confession.

Reader’s notebooks are a tough sell.  Students either just want to read, or they just don’t like doing it.  I get their point. I take notes on reading (often informational or for a book club), but these notes usually end up in the books I’m reading. I annotate, use post its and leave loose leaf pages in books, but I haven’t  used a reader’s notebook to keep track of my reading thoughts over time. “Teacher me” can see the potential, but “Reader me” hasn’t owned this.

What I discovered. First off, it was difficult to develop the habit. I kept forgetting. And, it is a less natural thing (for me) to do with fiction.  After three weeks, with the notebook near by,  I’m writing responses to the text and pulling quotes. I write about what mattered to me. I write when things kept hitting me again and again, or when characters surprise me or irritate me. More importantly, I’m noticing a shift in my engagement in and attitude toward writing about reading.

The payoff. After a few reads, my writing about reading is becoming a collection. Those lines that come from multiple texts are there in one place and are easy to set beside one another and see connections. (Ooo, Teacher me is seeing Reading Standards 1 and 9 in flashing lights, and Reader me is just thinking that’s so cool!)

And a writing bonus: Quotes and responses from reading  have become  jumping off points for writing entries. This line from Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy  started an entry on naming my kids and one on the importance my mom placed on naming me.

2014-06-26 09.50.11Then I noticed another quote pulled from Snicker of Magic and I thought about the connection to names in that read as well.






Rief’s Writer’s-Reader’s Notebooks include sections on response, classroom lessons, vocabulary, and spelling. Lots of valuable writing and reading connections all in one place. In the response section she asks students to do a multitude of things with text and life. It is all about noticing and responding to what you encounter be it text or the world.

*to collect/respond to/react to/reflect on reading (books, magazines, instructions, other classes, etc.), writing, observations, and discoveries about yourself, others, and the world with writing, collected pictures, charts, cartoons, lists, drawing

I love these thoughts Rief gives her students for inspiration:

Your notebook is a room of your own. It provides a safe place for you to ask: What do I notice? What do I care about? What really matters? What moves the deepest part of me? What haunts me? What do I want to remember—in my life, in this world—for the rest of my life? What do I want to write about?” —Ralph Fletcher, Breathing In, Breathing Out, p.3

The point of a notebook (journal) is to jumpstart your mind.” —John Gregory Dunn from Shoptalk (1990, Don Murray)

My notebook is who I am/everything I want to remember as a writer, reader, thinker, listener, observer of the world around me.” —Linda Rief

I’m keeping the last quote for the front of my notebook. One I will share with my students at the end of the summer.

While the idea of a combined Writer’s-Reader’s Notebook breaks away from my original construct of a separate Writer’s Notebook, introduced at my school in 3rd grade and then developed in 4th, I think next year I’d like to venture into this hybrid idea. I’ve noticed  my students’ Writer’s Notebooks are not used very heavily.  This trend speaks to the earlier drafting and revising work they are doing outside of the notebook. Which is good, but their independent writing lives seem underdeveloped. Perhaps bringing the two notebooks together will motivate readers to write more about their reading and find more inspiration for their own narratives and opinions.

How have you and your students document your reading lives? Does the work support your writing life?

Reflections on My Year Part 1: Read Aloud


images-2 It’s summertime. Time to reflect on practices that worked and areas that need some work. Time to dig a little deeper..

Today I’m thinking about reading and specifically interactive read aloud. My reflection here is based on a mixture of data: what my students reported directly, my observations (so often documented with pictures)  and reading assessments of many types.

My reflections on our reading year is filtered through the lens of two goals: 1) that students walk away knowing that reading is a place to find learning and joy and 2) they know how to find this on their own. If they come out with these two things, I believe they will keep reading.

My students rate read aloud as the best part of the day. The interesting aspect of this is why.  So I asked. Results of their responses are interesting.

Scratching the surface of why —  it seems to be for the pure entertainment of story or the fascination of figuring something out. Students want to know what comes next or understand the why or how of something.  Digging deeper into student thinking, students love read aloud because of the  laughter, suspense, wonder, fear, sadness, and knowledge they get from it.  Another thing that comes up for so many students is coming together to experience these big emotions and learning as one: to talk about it, question it, figure it out, all together. Some revel in the fact that when I do the reading work they are free to do the thinking work.

Being that read aloud is interactive, not passive, there is a fair amount of opportunity to access the text independently while read aloud is going on. I project the text as I read it, so students can see what I’m seeing and get that much closer to how I’m doing it. I show my thinking when I stop and wonder, or figure it out in an attempt to demonstrate all the things that readers do.

imgresI give them a chance to wonder, to jot, to turn to share what they think; to think beside me.  I chart, they chart.  I ask them to read/think with purpose, to read/think closely.  They try, I listen in to conversations or collect their jotted thinking to figure out how closely they are to riding that bike on their own.  This is practice of how it feels to read and think deeply, connecting the pieces.

In the beginning of a book, I  purposefully request their noticings; building class understandings with collected post its and comments. Because I control the pace of the reading, it makes getting students to take more control of the reading work tricky. My goal has been to move them towards holding on to their noticings and add them together to get develop understanding across the text. The more students hold on to and connect it to a stopping point, it seems the more they are growing as thinkers.

This is just one part of a literate classroom and students accessed it on different levels this year, but each walked away from read aloud loving the books we read and gaining skills they used during read aloud.

  • Collecting know and wonders
  • Noticing what repeats (again and again)
  • Sketching scenes to help visualize moments
  • Writing on graffiti walls to hold quotes that matter
  • Using post it parking lots to make thinking visible
  • Writing longer about what noticings/wonderings make you think.
  • Extending talk with thought prompts
  • Going back over text to pull words and lines to wonder about and  to hold on to
  • Re reading with a  specific lens
  • Making connections between multiple texts’ language and ideas

Looking back over the list, many students were not able to access certain strategies (in bold) without support. And it’s not surprising. These are the tasks that are higher on the continuum of understanding literature.

With this in mind, I start out the year aware and focused on what purposeful support I need to provide next year’s kiddos.

  • More whole group and small group lessons around each of these trouble spots
  • Partner/group work to support each of these areas
  • Many opportunities to talk and then write longer about their thinking
  • More writing about reading that bridges into the writing workshop

Lots of this looks like more talking and writing about their reading. Practicing what is a bit tougher to do. Making it audible and visible.

Next reflection, that reading notebook.






Slice of Life Day 22: Celebration of End Points and Realizations

11454297503_e27946e4ff_h   celebrate link up

This post serves a dual purpose:  1) celebrating the week with Ruth Ayres’ Celebration link up and 2) the Slice of Life Challenge hosted by Two Writing TeachersThanks to Ruth,, Stacey, Betsy, Anna, Tara, Beth, and Dana for sponsoring these opportunities.

One.  By this time every year things start to snowball. The anticipation of approaching “end points” are all  of a sudden here.  One of those endings, Open House, is now over. I’m celebrating that is it done, and off my plate, but at the same time, it is kind of sad.  This event marks the beginning of the end  Which means my students won’t be mine for much longer. Bittersweet.

Two. Open House was put together by my students. Call me exhausted, but after a serious discussion with myself, I felt this is their show.  It’s their work, let them show it.  They cleaned up the room, straightened the library,  set up stations for parents to interact with,

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put up their work

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decided which charts should be shown (many of my charts are only pulled out when we use them)

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and made sure all iPads were fully charged. It wasn’t something I’d post on Pinterest, but it was ours. Fourth grade students came with their parents to check out their future. My current students explained the world of fifth grade. I did not organize this or tell students to do this, they just did. Families came, talked, and seemed to enjoy the low stress, student created and explained environment.

Three. I made QR codes for the classroom blog.  I’ve been meaning to do this FOREVER, I just kept forgetting to do it. Such a great thing. I put them out, parents took. No more not being able to get to the site. Why I didn’t do this sooner? This was one of the many side benefits of Open House. It forced me to do it! Next year I’ll do this at the beginning of the year.


Four. I have strengths and weaknesses as a teacher, and it’s ok for me not to be excellent in all areas (think really cute charts). It gives me room to learn from those folks (going to get better markers) who are and honor them for their strengths, but at the same time, not beat myself up for not being them.  I’m celebrating the differences that help me grow.

Five. I put two and two together. Friday afternoon, students were discussing their books, club talk. Effort was  less than what I wanted.. Pressed for time, wanting to complete the task in the little time we had, I was less than the teacher I want to be.  I gave them a lecture.. Most took it in silence. Two reacted negatively. Completely predictable. It’s not that the students’ performance shouldn’t be examined, it’s my reaction to it that I’m most irritated with. I lost sight of what was a reasonable expectation and instead of accepting it and turning it to a positive, I pushed and stepped backward. Negative never gets positive. I know this, but the moment got me.

Here’s to the weekend to recover, rethink and recharge. Happy Saturday.

A Little Sunshine for My Students

I had so much fun doing my Sunshine post. I thought about things I hadn’t considered in years. As I was working on it, I couldn’t help but think, this would be great for my students.

With this in mind, my colleague and I worked on some kid-friendly questions. We decided only 10, being the average age of our fifth graders.

Ten Questions

  1. If you had superpowers, what power would you pick?
  2. What lessons have you learned from a parent (mom or dad)?
  3. Tell something about an adult (other than your parents) who meant a lot to you.
  4. If you could have dinner with anyone living or dead, who would you choose?
  5. If you could take anything to a desert island, what would it be?
  6. What song has lyrics (words) that speak to your heart?
  7. What do you do when you’re bored?
  8. What frustrates you the most?
  9. What are you afraid of?
  10. If you could go back and change one thing in the past, what would it be?

Random Facts: I think the “random facts” section is the most intriguing part of the Sunshine post process. What you pick says something in itself. So of course, students get to choose 10 random facts about themselves.

Passing on the Sunshine: Why not have students pass on the process? Students can create their own questions and  “nominate” other people in their lives. No numbers here, as many as they want.

I’m hoping to get a few things out of this process:

  1. Student self reflection — Everyone struggles with this. The more we do the better we get at it.
  2. Teacher information — I learned so much about bloggers reading their posts; I can’t wait to see what students will share.
  3. Seeds for memoir — Students, just like us, think they have nothing to say. But they do, it’s just buried in the day-to-day doings, just like us. Perhaps this process will help them find a few things that trigger an important moment that has shaped them.
  4. Seeds for future posts — I want students to use their blogs in a more reflective manner. Perhaps these lists will be a go-to tool for that purpose.
  5. Enhancing relationships — I’m wondering who they will pass the sunshine to? Friends, family, teachers, the principal.

So here’s to sharing the Sunshine with my students.