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.

2014-10-10 21.08.27

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!




Celebrating Independent Learning

Every week Ruth Ayers invites bloggers to celebrate their week by focusing on about the big and the small things worth holding up and celebrating. Thank you Ruth for this lovely ritual. Read more celebrations here.celebrate link up Today I’m celebrating independent learning..

One.  My students are still blogging and it’s summer. Technically they are no longer my students, but they are still blogging. One student has started a challenge – a do it yourself challenge a la Genius Hour! This student is putting herself out (a bit of a risk) to her peers with a challenge. No one asked her to. It wasn’t an assignment. She just did it. She is a writer and a creator all on her own and I hope forever.

Second. My own children are learning to handle life on their own. One son had to get through finals, job recertification (he’s a summer lifeguard and has to pass a open water swim test), look for a new house to rent (apparently “no one rents to male students”), and not feel well (probably stress) at the same time. He is dealing with it, without complaint. I worry but I’m proud of his independence.

Third. Teachers are choosing to spend the beginning part of their summer learning. These teachers came and worked all day with energy, learning a challenging but powerful way to teach writing. The extraordinary thing is that these teachers have lots of experience and success in their classrooms, BUT they aren’t satisfied. They have their sights on what is best for their students, and they are looking to raise the level of  instruction with Teachers College Reading Writing Projects’ Units of Study. I am inspired by their dedication to their craft and their students. These independent learners who came wanting more, left excited about what might be for next year, considering how to overcome obstacles and bring home the work to their school sites.

Fourth. The people and resources of TCRWP help us learn and push our teaching to higher levels. . With internet access, the classrooms and teaching of Cornelius Minor, Kate Roberts, and the coaching of Lucy Calkins comes to life for teachers, 3,000 miles away, to observe and learn.

Fifth. My  exceedingly talented colleagues work together to do masterful work teaching other teachers. Today, I celebrate their gifts and the magic that happens when it all comes together.

Celebration: My Students, My Girl and A Long Weekend

celebrate link upEvery week Ruth Ayres invites bloggers to celebrate their week.  I love this ritual. Thank you Ruth for the opportunity to share. Read more celebration posts here.

Today I’m celebrating my students who hosted a school-wide Colonial Fair. Here are some of the Friday reflections they posted on their blog.

The colonial fair was pretty cool because we were acting characters from 290 years ago. It was sort of a celebration from the past.

My favorite part at the colonial fair was the One Room School House  because  they would tell you about manners and the correct way to eat and if you come to school dirty you would get whipped. 

Some of the 5th graders had to be a tour guides for 2 sessions, even though it was hard to take care of second graders and third graders while suffering of feet pain and hunger. 

The two kindergarteners I was responsible for were so calm and nice… one of the two kindergarteners hugged me. They got so many things I had to hold the stuff. It was hard to hold their hands with all the stuff in my hands, but I managed to do both .

It was super easy to take care of the kindergarteners because they were quiet and very interested in what the fifth graders in the booths had to say. They had fun and laughed. It made me feel good about helping them get around the fair.

I feel like just because I got tired does not mean that I did not have fun. I think that this was the best Colonial fair ever because the kids really got to learn and so did I.

I enjoyed the colonial fair and I really liked taking the kids around it made me think that I was an actual grown up chaperone. I felt glad to show kids how colonial times were like and how I got to teach about farming back then.

I saw the kids having a lot of fun because we had props and games that the kids could use to make learning fun, so it wouldn’t  just be us talking. Another reason working at the booth was fun was that you could see the smiles on the kids faces and how the Colonial Fair was a big experience for them.

Just feeling that you’re teaching something so cool and new to somebody else is amazing!!!! All the kids listened and did what they were supposed to do, even though there were some trouble. I liked teaching the little kids since they were so cute!!! I even learned things I didn’t know before while tour guiding.

Today I’m celebrating student blogging. On Wednesday, one of my students told me, “I’m posting my 100th post!” I was a little ashamed because I had no idea she had that many posts. (I just got to my 100th post in March!) In total, two classes of 5th graders have posted 960 posts and 2,019 comments. Feel free to check out their interesting thoughts here and here.

Today I’m celebrating my daughter. On Monday she found out that she would miss two days of classes due to school swim meets.  Because of block scheduling two days is like four and right before finals. She’s worked hard for her grades and was concerned. She said,”Don’t they realize I’m a student athlete. The student comes first.” I’m proud of her and she’s right.

Yesterday, she swam two individual events (500 free and 100 butterfly) and two relays in the dIstrict’s CIF finals. She had knee reconstruction surgery on December 31st.  This makes me worry. When I met her afterward she was icing the knee but happy with her performance. I asked her about the knee. She calmly stated,  “It’s ok, this is a part of it. I just don’t tell you because you’ll look like that.” I’m  proud, and she’s right again.

Today I am celebrating a gray morning.  This weather, the beginnings of “June gloom,” is a comfort.  It gives permission to stay in and slow down.  All parts of me need a fog-filled Saturday: to sleep in, to read, to put on warm sweats and put my feel up.

2014-05-24 08.11.04


Happy Memorial Day weekend!

Celebrating Growth: The YES and the STARTING TO

Today I’m celebrating the growth I see in my students. We have only a few weeks left together and it seems to be culminating in a beautiful way.

Every year at this time, we focus on Colonial America. Stidents have visited a colonial village  and witnessed reenactments, watched videos, read, talked and researched a specific area of interest.  This is all in preparation for next week, when our 5th grade students take our school back in time to colonial days. They set up “booths” to teach youngers about life back in time.  I have done this work for the past 11 years, and each year brings different students and a slightly different me to the project. This year for the first time, they blogged their learning.

When we started blogging at the beginning of the year, there were lots of bumps. Learning the technology and overcoming problems was how I spent a lot of my conferring time. I worried was it worth it? Was it hurting writing?

Eight months later, I am celebrating students ability to navigate technology and use it as a writing tool.  There are still technology bumps. Students still make mistakes and lose text.  But they have learned  how to fix, how to recover. Students have taught each other how to crop pictures, how to integrate the pictures with the text, and how to insert picture captions. They figured it out and kept writing. Now I confer with students on writing not technology. The last time they did this type of informational writing, every step was a struggle. This time it flew: note taking to research to flash draft to published product on our blog.

This year we started using the Units of Study from TCRWP. I knew they were good, but oh so overwhelming for the students (and me). Understanding the checklists and using mentor text took time. We’d focus on one aspect of the checklist at a time and ignore others. So much of my teaching centered around understanding the mentor text and the checklist. I worried, were they getting it.

Eight months later, I’m celebrating  my students’ capacity to use mentor texts and check lists independently.  When I ask,  how might you use the mentor text to improve your writing? Students know what I mean. When I ask them,  show me how the mentor text has helped you. They can say specifically what they did and what parts of the mentor text helped them.

2014-05-15 13.02.142014-05-15 13.02.242014-05-15 13.02.472014-05-15 13.02.53

Learning takes time. And it takes a bit of belief in the fact that the baby steps we are taking forward, and sometimes backward, will add up to be enough  Along the road we worry: will we make it. Today, I am celebrating. In so many ways, we have made it. Students are have grown in independence as readers and writers. They may not all be at that  spot that says “YES.”  Some may be “STARTING TO” but all have grown along the continuum. All are moving and they all are ready for to take the next step.



Digital Literacy Journey: Messy and Organic

Margaret Simon, of Reflections on The Techehas started this wonderful Sunday link up on how we are using technology to enhance literacy in our classrooms. Read all the posts that link up with her on Sundays and learn!

My digital literacy journey in the classroom has been messy and interesting. It has been less than perfect and has taken more time than anticipated. While I’d like to be the master of all knowledge and be able to direct students to the best apps to enhance their learning, but I can’t. So I give them time to try things out. They are the testers and the teachers.

We test things out mostly outside reading and writing blocks, during Genius Hour time, tech team (at recess), and after school. Technology takes experimentation and time. Once things seem to be doable and  applicable for reading or writing we’ll take the tech there.

I give students the time (Genius Hour is once a week) and the trust to explore. I might introduce them to an app or a site and ask them if they would like to play with it to see what they can make of it. Sometimes we run into roadblocks, like we did with Animoto and Smores. Both are fantastic tools but the lack of bandwidth at school stopped us cold, so we set it aside while the district works on upgrades.

Students  welcome the opportunity to learn and teach technology. They are passionate about it and pursue it as choice. What students find and share becomes reason for them to come in off the yard at recess and after school to experiment on their own time.

Stopmotion and Paper 53 (a sketch pad/story boarding tool) were discovered by “T” and “M” through the Animation Chef’s website. Students loved their short animations and found these apps help them compose and tell story.

Our current dilemma is writing about reading on the blog. Blogging about reading is one way students discuss their books. It allows for comments and feedback. Clarifications have been made and concerns about spoiling the story have been cited. Both allow for us to grow as a community of readers and writers.

Organic and messy in nature we are working together  to increase our digital literacy.

Next Steps..  I’m looking to introduce  Padlet  for our read aloud discussion. Students can post their comments or questions immediately after read aloud. If we get good at this, what’s to stop us from using this as a tool for posting questions on the books they are reading in clubs. The other way I’m thinking about using Padlet is to enhance our argument writing. Currently students are working on whether zoos are good or bad. I’ve linked a web page to this Padlet. They can read and comment and even copy quotes for their essays. Perhaps share their own links to support their positions.

Thanks to all who linked up today. I got some great ideas. I’m looking forward to using Thinglink with students for our Colonial work coming up in May (thank you Tara for those virtual tours and the connection to Thinglink) and Soundcloud to add to their blog posts on poetry (thanks to Kevin and Linda for being great mentors).

Thank you Margaret for this link up and all for adding so much to my digital literacy.


Slice of Life Day 5: Catlike Reflexes

I sit in my classroom, eating lunch and blogging with five students.  Slicing is an option for my students. They can join me if and when they like.  For now, I’m letting it grow organically. I’m finding lunch is the perfect time to get my post going, next to my students.

Two more students walk in.  They sit scattered around the classroom — side by side on the carpet, at the computers, at random desks. All quiet. Involved, independent in their writing lives.

Joy…. Check out their writing for today here. And find adult slicers here.

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hThis morning I woke up in the usual way. I don’t need an alarm clock, I have a cat.

My cat has needs and he makes them known. A creature of habit, he requires that I am up at at the same time each day.

A gentle tap on the shoulder coupled with purring signals his presence.

I roll over. Silly me, I think that today he will be content to settle down and sleep next to me.

Not likely.

The gentle touch becomes more of a jab.

I stay still, hoping he’ll give up.

Not today.

He presses his entire weight on one paw, and then he shifts the weight to the other. It’s like he’s stomping on me.

I know his next move.

The purring gets louder and he approaches my pillow on the way to the bedside table. It is just a matter of moments before… WACK! My glasses go flying off the table and hit the hardwood floor.

Miserable thing.

I’m up. He knows this always does it.  I move toward the door, and he’s watching, looking back every few steps as if to say, “Are you coming? Come on this way!”

When I turn toward the bathroom, not the hall, he stops, takes a step back, and gives my ankle a nip.

Naughty thing. I scold him.

This is the dance we do every morning.

Funny thing.

Eventually I get to the place he wants me to be. He gazes out the window. He looks back, I open the door. Off he goes into the dark, my alarm clock.