Thank You Wonder — My 2014 OLW

This is my last post for 2014, and time to thank my one little word for the year, wonder.

My OLW has been a wonderful companion, and I’m not saying goodbye. Wonder has taken up residence. It will sit beside me as I adopt a new OLW for 2015. So much has been conjured by wonder, and I am grateful for it’s presence.

Wonder allowed me to question myself and others in a way that is gentle and open. It is a nonjudgmental word, ready for whatever might appear.  I believe it’s semi-magical secondary meaning edges into it’s questioning component and allows thinking to get even bigger.

Wondering first made its appearance with the book What Readers Really Do by Dorothy Barnhouse and Vicki Vinton. The process of wondering about what we notice is so powerful in reading, and as with any great strategy it bridges to all parts of life. That is what wonder has done for me.

This year, the act of wondering made reading accessible for struggling readers and helped make the process of reading more visible for the proficient.

This year, on a macro almost subconscious level, the permission to wonder allowed me to take chances, to open doors, and go places I never knew existed.  Some of the places I went were inside me; some were to places that involved airports and hotels; some were to places where closer relationships and understandings exists.

Thank you to all who ventured and wondered with me: my students, my colleagues I see down the hall and in the coffee shop, my blogging community of Slicers and Celebrators, my TCRWP virtual and sometimes face-to-face colleagues,  my NCTE cohorts Mary Lee Hahn, Fran McVeigh, Steve Peterson and Vicki Vinton,  my husband, and my family who didn’t choose me, but love me anyway. This year has been a wonderful journey.


Looking forward to next year with wonder beside me and another one little word.

Celebrate: Student Explorations and PD with Colleagues

This week felt huge. Was Spring Break only a week ago? 

celebrate link upEvery Saturday, Ruth Ayers hosts a place to celebrate the big and small things in our week.  For me, it is a way to focus on and grow the good work that happens daily. To read more of these celebrations click here.

First – Poetry! My students are in the midst of writing poems of apology. Inspired by William Carlos Williams’ This is Just to Say. Read more about it here...

We also attempted to a Progressive Poem.

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Each student has a number and they were to write a line when their number matched the date of the month. It was an interesting experiment. The poem started to go one way and then another and then back again. Interesting process. Each child trying to make sense of the lines that came before them. Now I’m wondering what will they title it? And now that they see what they did, I wonder what they might come up with next month.

Next:  Owning Vocabulary. We study vocabulary throughout the year based on our read alouds. I try to choose words that are used or are concepts addressed in the text. I try to select words that can be used with a fair amount of frequency in reading, writing and speaking. Over the course of the year we have amassed nearly 100 words.  The trouble is, over time students forget the meaning of words that they don’t use enough.

Looking to engage them in the words we’d accumulated, I took some of the ideas presented in Word Nerds by Brenda J. Overturf, Leslie H. Montgomery, Margot Holmes Smith that make words visible part of the student’s classroom life.  Every day this week each student got a word to wear . If they used it in conversation or in writing they gave themselves a point. If they used another student’s word they would also get a point. They could switch words  once they felt they got it.  The newness and gaming qualities did something to get them going. But, I think by simply putting it up front and visible made it top of mind. It gave permission to ask questions of their peers, to try it out and to try again. They wore their word to read aloud, to reading workshop, writing workshop and recess. I’m looking forward to continuing this practice-working on using what we have and developing some word ownership.

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Next: #WRRDchat: The twitter chat based on the book, What Readers Really Do by Vicki Vinton and Dorothy Barnhouse, was on Tuesday. Quite simply it rocked. Thanks to  Ryan Scala, Fran McVeigh, and Allison Jackson hosting many like-mined groupies of the book shared their thoughts and reminders of what it means to be a teacher who listens and coaches in to student’s wondering. If you don’t own this book, get it. It is something that simply will change your teaching approach from the query-filled stance of the all knowing, to the listener and coach that pushes students to wonder about what they know in the text they are reading. It honors the student’s thinking without butting in with our own. It promotes the fact that all students will come to understand text if we give them the room and time to find it. It reminds us that we are all on the path to knowledge, some are just not there yet. Read Fran’s recent post on the power of yet and get some insight into the book and the chat.

Next: The Cotsen Foundation. This year I have had the privilege of being a Cotsen fellow. This program promotes what the organization terms The Art of Teaching by looking to move teachers from good to great. Teachers can choose their focus and pursue that passion with support of a mentor coach (Michelle Baldonado @MrsBaldonado4 is mine) and access to many professional resources. Part of the beauty of this program is that teachers are valued as resources that  should be cultivated and nurtured through mentoring, observations and inquiry. This foundation honors teachers. Read more about this  program here.

Next: Fellowship Inquiry Work: One part of this program includes inquiry work with other fellows at your school. Our monthly meeting is one of my favorite times. We meet with no interruptions, and talk about our challenges, successes, and a professional text.

Our current read, Make Just One Change: Teach Students to Ask Their Own Questions, has got everyone  excited. This book looks to move students to inquiry through their own questioning. Teachers create a question focus, not a question, and the students are taught a method to develop and prioritize questions from the focus statement. The focus can be determined in many ways, but it isn’t a question and it shouldn’t show teacher bias. The end product of content learning may vary based on need, but the universal end result, if done successfully, would be teaching students to question issues in a systematic way. If we choose to teach just one thing, the ability to question in a thoughtful manner, just might be the one.

Here’s to the weekend and a wonder-filled week.

Slice of Life Day 4: Intertwining Thoughts of Read Alouds Past, Present and Future

Here is my Slice for Tuesday, Day 4 of the Slice of Life Daily Challenge. Check out Two Writing Teachers for more slicing.

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hIntertwined. That was one of our vocabulary words for the week. I wanted students to weave together ideas and think about how the books we have read so far are intertwined. 

We started by looking at the struggles the characters faced: Ivan in the One and Only Ivan, Melody in Out of My Mind and August in Wonder. Did they connect? Were their struggles related? Did the messages in these books intertwine?

I ask….Before we leave Ivan, let’s think back to
Wonder and Out of My Mind.
How might some of the ideas in those books 
intertwine with Ivan?

We jot. We think….

Student voices…

They all don’t have friends.

Yes they do! They all have friends.

Well not a lot.

Yeah, just a few.

Why do you think that is?.


They really don’t fit in.

They’re all are different.

That’s what I mean.

Can you give examples? 

Thinking…Hands pop.

Melody can’t talk and August has a face
that scares people.


What about Ivan?


Yeah… he doesn’t totally fit in at the end
because he wasn’t socialized with other gorillas.
He was raised as a human with diapers.

He isn’t really comfortable
with the other gorillas.
Remember when Kinyani chased him.

Oh yeah. He doesn’t fit either.

What other struggles intertwine?


Ooo! Ooo! 

They all want to protect but they can’t.

Ahhh! That was mine!

Ivan wants to protect Ruby

Melody wants to protect Penny!

Yeah she couldn’t speak to warn her mom!



Jack? in the forest….Hmmm. Maybe.

They all lost someone.

Ivan his family, Melody her fish. August..Daisy..

The thinking and connecting of ideas continues. The connections they make surprise me. Some I anticipated but others not at all.  Tomorrow we move on to thinking about each character’s environment. Do their worlds compare?

The passion for these read alouds is keen. Many carry Wonder in their bags. Reading it on occasion. Independent research has been done on Ivan. Melody has spurred interest in our Special Education students next door.

They have been begging for the new read aloud. I’ve been holding off on the next text reading about the real Ivan.

Today we started A Long Walk to Water. I debated about this one (on Twitter with @erinvarley and @azajacks). I worried the subject, the place, the shifts in narration and time would be too challenging. But I decide to risk it.

The start is tough for some. It doesn’t sweep them off their feet. They have left the high of the last read aloud and they want to start at that same place. It’s ok, I tell myself. The struggle at the beginning of books happens. The work they do to figure it out is necessary. This is what readers need to do in the beginning of books. The wondering, the delaying of understanding, the trust we must have in the author. We trust she will let us know. We must linger in the possibilities of wonder. Students have been trained by the wonderful thinking of authors Vicki Vinton and Dorothy Barnhouse’s What to Readers Really Do? to wonder and know. They have lots of wonders right now.

After school one student comes up to me and says, I don’t really like this read aloud as much as the others.

I tell her to be patient. It can be slow in the beginning.

Ok she says I trust you, Mrs. Harmatz.

Hope Linda Sue Park and I don’t let her down. Maintaining the magic of read aloud can be a heavy burden to bear..

Slice of Life: Day 2 Filled with Piles, Files and Treasures


Day 2 in my first slice of life daily challenge. I am so impressed with the numbers who slice. I just wish I could read more of them. All such gems. So proud to be a part of the Slicing community at Two Writing Teachers. Thank you Stacey, Dana, Tara, Elizabeth, Anna and Betsy for helping me become more of a writer.

Today it rained, hard. It hailed. Today there was lightning, thunder.
Today I filed papers.
What do these things have in common? All these things don’t happen very often.
Truth: I am terrible at putting things away.

I am one of those people who loves organization, but hates to organize. I’m one of those people who instead of putting things away in their place when I get them, I put things in a place that I will eventually put away. Today was eventually.

Today I filed.

My bedroom was awash in student work, absence notes, random mentor texts, charts, cards.

Stacks were made: memoir, informational texts, poetry, fantasy, etc.
Found: a random poem written by my middle son in 4th grade -his ode to Lord of the Rings.
Ummm. I sit and think. Where to put this treasure? I place in a pile of other un-categorizable papers. A pile to be discovered another time. I think that is fine. I’ll find this again. Next time.

Now, where is that book? I’ve been looking for it for days, weeks. Searching the bookshelves and other places I pile books. I know I have at least one copy of it.  Every time I start looking, I get distracted by another book.

Today I found The Boy on the Porch.  Hmmm… I sit down in the corner. Just a little break from organizing I think.

As I read I wonder. Who is this boy? He’s magical, alien, and other worldly all in one. I think of the wondering work my students would do if they read this book. He’s a secret treasure to this couple who find him mysteriously placed on their doorstep. Mute. Its magical quality reminds me of  Cynthia Ry;ant’s  Van Gogh Cafe.  The secret, sweet part of Jacob reminds me of the sweet spirit of the character in Feathers, by Jacqueline Woodsen. I’m wondering if he is part animal, related to the cow and the beagle. And why does this couple receive these gifts? Will they get to keep them? Should they?

Time is slipping and the papers are on their way to being filed, but you can’t walk on the ground without stepping on one.

My husband walks in clearly disgusted, “We have to leave at 5:45,” he says

“It’s  3:30,” I say.

He knows me too well. Irritating. So I put the book down, focus on the papers, get them off the ground,  and in files that are named.

Now I can read and someone can walk on the ground. Now I can go back to the book I can’t put it down.

But wait, what was I looking for? Oh yes Bird by Bird. It is driving me crazy. Did I loan it to someone? If so, please return. Now back to the book.

My One Little Word…And Where It Might Take Me

After much thought about all the possible words to be my one little word I’ve finally found one.  It needed to…

  • be actionable and visible
  • promote collaboration, questioning and creation
  • foster a love of reading and writing
  • strengthen the classroom community
  • ignite passionate and meaningful work

I choose wonder to be my one little word.

  •  because that’s what readers really do
  •  because it leads to exploration and learning
  •  because it can be seen as amazement or engagement
  •  because it gives permission to go places we otherwise might not go
  •  because that is the name of a book we love


Inquiry Work in Reading – I’ve just begun to look at how students process read aloud. I wonder can students identify their thinking processes during read aloud and then transfer some of that thinking towards independent work. I’m wondering what could bring the read aloud’s high level of engagement and deep level of thinking to their individual reading lives.

Poetry Connections –  Inspired by Mary Lee Hahn, Steve Peterson, and Vicki Vinton’s call for poetry, I am pushed to a place I’ve avoided. I wonder why I have overlooked poetry, particularly when I think about all of the potential it offerers in terms of language, craft and engagement.

But I’m working on it.  I’m looking for the those poems that resonate in my heart. Peeking at Poetry Friday posts and commenting on a few. My antennae are up. While I’m embarrassed to discover this hole in my literary world, I’m excited to learn alongside my students.

Deepening Student Blogging – I have learned so much from blogging and  I want my students to experience that same growth.  I’m wondering if we could connect student blogs out there for a student Tuesday slice in preparation for the March monthly challenge. Any takers for January and February?

Students Blog, Why Not Teachers – I’m wondering about blogging with my colleagues. Just to start, perhaps one day a week teachers could investigate one blog. We could gather around our laptops in room 5 and read a few blogs. Talk a bit and maybe a post a comment. I wonder if they’d catch the bug.

Wonder Across Grade Levels — As the new year starts, I wonder what is going on in other classrooms at my school. I wonder if my colleagues would want to enter my classroom and observe with wondering hearts and find at least one little thing to help to help me grow and one little thing that could help them grow. I’m wondering if I open up my classroom, inviting wonder, will others do the same.

Here’s to a year of wonder.



Celebrate: What a Good Idea!

Here are my vocabulary words for next week:

  • Euphoria — a feeling of extreme happiness
  • Mayhem — a situation that is extremely frightening or exciting
  • Remote — physically or emotionally distant
  • Bittersweet — emotions or feelings that are both sad and happy

I love these words. They connect in some beautiful ways — in my life, in my teaching and in our read aloud, Wonder by R.J. Palicios.

I am at the place in my life where my children are growing up and going.  It has been an honor to be a part of their lives, They have formed me as much as I have formed them. Moments of euphoria, coupled with extended periods of mayhem (the frightening and the exciting kind) have filled the past 20 plus years.  I suppose that’s part of why we take on the most debilitating, frustrating, irritating and sometimes thankless job of parenting. You can never do it “right” you always feel you could have done it better.  And then when they reach that place where they are so remote (both physically and emotionally) your heart is filled with bittersweet emotions and memories.

Hmmm… Sounds a lot like teaching.

I am at the place in my teaching year where we know each other.  The euphoria of our beginning is lessening. The reality of who we are — our weaknesses and strengths — is evident. I’m getting that I’m not doing enough, could have done it better feeling.

Yesterday, I was down. Part of it was the down you get after coming off a euphoric high. Thursday I had spent the day with Lucy Calkins (oh, yeah hundreds of other educators were there too). I was completely swept away by her commitment to and investment in teachers, students, and teaching. Leaving the hotel, I felt like I could climb every mountain, ford every stream. Walking into my classroom, the vision wasn’t quite as clear.

Leaving your classroom in the hands of an unknown substitute is unsettling at best. I only do it for emergencies and really good professional development.  I asked my students, “How’d it go?” Their response: She talked too much — She wouldn’t let us do anything –We didn’t get to read or write — We didn’t have Read Aloud. We continued our day, but I was still in a funk. Irritation came easily. As I left for home, I was disappointed in myself, I wasn’t the teacher I wanted to be. I didn’t come to class with my game on.

Come Saturday, after a cup of coffee and a few blog posts (thank you Katherine Socklowski and Ruth Ayers), I replay the day, and it hits me. I have something big to celebrate. My students 1) wanted to read and write, 2) felt cheated when they didn’t get the time to do it, and 3) expected it. Oh my gosh! They are doing it. They believe reading and writing is something they are entitled to. YESSSS! There is that moment of euphoria, and here a first link-up to CELEBRATE!