What I’ve Learned This Month #sol20

This month I have been writing in the Slice of Life Community 31 Day Challenge created by Two Writing Teachers.  While I always learn from my writing companions in this group, this month has been particularly poignant.  This is Day 29/31

img_1405What I’ve Learned this Month #sol20

March 29, 2020

Writing thirty one days and commenting on others writing always teaches me so much.  I learn different writing styles, different approaches to the same subject, other writer’s processes.  I also learn about their lives, their hopes, their frustrations, their fears and… they learn about mine.

I haven’t counted the total number of writers in our writing group, but I admire and cherish them all.   During the year, I write on Tuesday each week and follow many writers all the time and other writers much of the time.  I usually read and comment on over a dozen blogs each week. Each of them is inspiring to both my own writing and my coaching.  They are some of my greatest teachers.

During our March challenge, my blog is followed and read by many other writers. They offer me advice, suggestions, encouragement, and humor through their comments.  I personally follow 20 blogs every day, read and comment on between 15-20 each day.  I’ve had the opportunity to read a great deal of writing and learn so much about writing and so much more.

From one far flung slicer,  I gained so much advice about managing this new world of distance teaching.  She explained how to set it up, where the difficulties lie,  how to maintain self-care and how easy it is to overextend.  She even showed me how cleaning out my refrigerator could be an act of meditation.  Her practical advice,  her pragmatic nature, and her calm spirit displayed in her writing will stay with me for a long time. I hope we will stay in touch.

From other slicers,   I admire community,  all the things they are doing together and separately to maintain their school’s writing heart and community purpose.  They lovingly refer to each other in their blogs and graciously build each other up in their comments.  They comment on many, many other blogs as well as give practical advice for navigating the world of literacy in elementary school.  They are beacons to me in their practice, in their generosity, and in their connectivity.

Elisabeth always pushes me to think more, to consider other mentors, to consider my own practice, and to try new things.  Last year, she convinced me through her blog to write poetry for the month of April after our slice challenge was complete.  This year, she made me consider what books comfort me, how I decide what to read next, where I am creating my space at home, and what is keeping me moving forward.

I have the pleasure of being a welcomer to some new to the slice challenge.  From one of them, I learned to look to our past relationships and situations for lessons for the present.  Her powerful observation skills will be ones I continue to search for in my own writing.  From another new slicer,  I learned about her practice of confronting her advantages and working toward social justice in her learning, in her writing, and in her practice.  I strive to be brave like she is. One of my followed slicers was all about connections,  since this is my OLW for this year, her writing and her thinking drew me to consider the connections I am making and maintaining in this new frontier.  One of my new slicing buddies shared her day to day successes and struggles with heart and a fresh writing perspective.  Her comments were kind and supportive and I hope to read a lot more about her practice and thoughts in the future.  This year more than others, these blogs feel like new friendships.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the sustaining friendships this group affords me.  My friend, Clare, who first encouraged me to write about my work. Brian, my welcome wagon slicer those years ago continues to inspire me with his concise writing and quick witted comments.  My good friends in the group now who speak to me like old friends in their comments are so often encouragers-in-chief,  commiserators, teachers, mentors, and so much more.

Lanny, Stacey, Melanie, Kelsey, Beth,   I don’t think I have the words to express what your hard work in maintaining this community has meant to me and so many others.  As Clare said the other day,  in times of difficulty we turned to the folks who have sustained us all along.  You and Two Writing Teachers has certainly been that place now more than ever.

As we approach the twilight of this March Challenge,  I am grateful for this time, these writers, and this challenge.  This month, I believed it is what sustained me.

A Well-Worn Song #sol20

Yesterday, Lanny Ball shared, Margaret Simon’s, author of Bayou Song: Creative Explorations of the South Louisiana Landscape (University of Louisiana at Lafayette, 2018), blog where she offers a format that leans on creativity and word-play.  I couldn’t resist her invitation to play with poetry. This is Slice Challenge, Day 25. 

A Well-Worn Song #sol20

March 24, 2020

I am…

an early morning-rising

dog-walking

kitchen-experimenting

cookie-baking

bed-making

housework-avoiding

book-devouring

idea-connecting

note-taking

tradition-keeping

problem-solving

project-starting

forever-evolving

sort of human

Dear Me #sol20

Day 22 I decided to write a letter to the first person that needs encouraging me.  Like Clare said,  I am giving myself the oxygen first.  Here I am writing in the company of all my dear slicers in the comfort of Two Writing Teachers.  This is day 23 of the 31 day writing challenge.

Dear Me #sol20

March 23, 2020

I know you feel adrift right now, like your best ideas as a coach have always been built on connections and moments.  These things are not present in their familiar forms right now.  So… now is the time to create some new forms of connections and moments.

Spend the day today creating a creative space, a warm space.  Consider what each grade level, each teacher might need, might enjoy, might treasure and start doing what you do… making lists.  While you’re making a list, make sure you make a list of all the things you brought home from the literacy center.  You’re going to go back there and you’ll want all these things to pack up and go too.

It’s Monday, so don’t forget your Monday flowers and your message teacup,  some music, work(ish) clothes (well from the top up at least).  Maybe this will magically transform this remote space to be a little more like the missed space.

Make some movies today.  You can always throw them away… or send them.  Create a padlet, a screencast, a flip grid.  Now’s the time to learn all the things.  You won’t have to use them forever.

Work actual work hours… no less and no more.  You can still walk the dog and have lunch in your kitchen and thank goodness take all the breaks for personal business that you want.

So I know you feel adrift, but drop anchor for now.  They know where you are and how to find you.  They will… they will.

Stay well,

Me

Pace #sol20

Screen Shot 2020-03-20 at 7.42.51 AMPace #sol20

March 20, 2020

After a week of not talking to anyone outside my immediate family and only communicating via comments, texts, and tweets,  yesterday was a lot.

I had two meetings yesterday via the internet. One a district wide meeting where our superintendent was stellar.  She was calm, she was patient.  She answer questions for over an hour after her prepared statement.  While I only saw her, I felt the presence of our nearly 800 community members.  It was powerful.

That meeting was followed by a meeting with my literacy specialist team.  It’s great to see them and they all look well.  We are honest with each other and that’s so helpful.  We talked over our new directive, what it might mean and how we can support each other to provide support to our teaching teams and the intervention teams.  We were all tired at the end.  It’s a lot for one day.

I spent the rest of the day, talking to teachers, looking at resources,  going to a webinar, planning what I’ll pick up in the small window I have today to go to school and it was five before I realized it.   I kept going.  At 6:30,  I stopped at made dinner.  I kept reading texts and tweets until I got to a twitter discussion at 8:30 p.m.

That’s when I realized that I was doing that thing that others had warned me about, working and working and working.  I didn’t go outside yesterday.  I didn’t do a house project.  I just worked.

Today is shaping up to be more of the same.  I have a webinar at 8, going to school to pick up at 9, dropping some things off for teachers.  Then I have a training at 12 and a meeting with the principals and literacy specialists at 2:30…  Ok,  I am seriously going to have to make myself a self care schedule.

So in my spare time today,  I’m going to create a creative space because I also hear I have to think about what’s behind me in online connections.  Stay tuned for photos of that because my office is where I drop things I can’t part with.

I leave you with advice from my laptop keypad deck … Try easier and Be the one that decides to go for it.  Seem incongruous, but maybe not.

 

I’m writing alongside my Two Writing Teachers Slice Community every day for this month of March.  Today is day 20.  My writing PLN is my inspiration, my motivation, and my comfort.  

After That… A List #sol20

I’m writing along with my slice community at Two Writing Teachers every day during the month of March and Tuesdays year round.  I am inspired today, day 19, by Midwestern Heart in Dixie’s Before That: Wednesday Edition.  She can do a lot in a day. 

After That… #sol20

March 19, 2020

Up way predawn this morning.  Lily doesn’t seem to know that we are still on ‘snow day’ schedule today.  Took Lily for a walk.  The pavement was wet and it was drizzling.  No beautiful stars and moon this morning.  Yesterday’s was so spectacular.  Same sniffs, we picked up the paper on our way in.  So dark outside this morning.

After that, special dog food mix, downstairs to fill the dog bowl, just 1/2 cup.  She’s on a better diet than I am.  Then a little wet food from the refrigerator mixed in, her joint mineral powder and fish oil for her allergies. Clean water.

After that, I read through the text chain from last night’s chat with the other literacy specialist. We’re trying to figure out the changes that are coming in effect early next week for enrichment.  This is going to include intervention still, so it’s a lot to think about.

After that, I read through the 8-10 emails that came through after I went to bed last night.  Have heard from many of the eleven intervention team members.  Still need to hear from four of them.  I’m wondering about that this morning, but it’s still predawn.

After that,  I send a few emails.  I hope these people don’t have their phone near them in bed or their alerts on…  Organize emails in a new folder called distance learning.  Notice that I have over eighty emails in my mailbox.  I like to keep it to less than ten…

After that, I make a spreadsheet of the students receiving intervention.  I wonder again if the coordinators know how many kiddos this really is.  The team sent me the names and the student goals overnight.  One of them already has plans ready.

After that,  Bob scoots next to me to get his shoes from under the dining room table.  I left my shoes in your office.  Don’t want to use my actual office because it’s in the basement and I can’t look out the window in there, it’s too high.

After that,  I make a cup of coffee in my This is Going Well cup.  Wishful thinking perhaps, I do think we’ll get this together.  I smile again at our secretary emailing me right away last night to offer a hand.

After that,  Bob checks in to ask if I’m going into school today.  He interjects some news from the world.  I notice that our neighbor is driving out of their driveway.  I wonder if they are taking advantage of the early grocery hours that start today.

It’s 6 a.m.  now.  Everything I tell you about after that now is just hopeful thinking, but the list includes:

  • making a temporary plan for intervention at each grade
  • watching a video about zoom
  • reading through the district documents I received late yesterday
  • planning on taking a shower and possibly using makeup since I’ll be on view online today
  • Attending two meetings virtually; probably more

What’s that saying?  The people who get things done are the ones that do things one thing at a time.

 

 

At Home Learning/Exploring: Graphic Novels #sol20

Screen Shot 2020-03-18 at 11.09.46 AMAt Home Learning/Exploring:  Graphic Novels #sol20

March 18, 2020

I have been resisting graphic novels and creating a stockpile at the same time.  Graphic novels aren’t going away and the students can’t get enough of them.  My friend, Gwen, is always extolling their virtues but honestly,  I am always just starting and abandoning them.

I know what I would tell a student about that,  you just have to learn to read them, so yesterday I set out to do just that using a graphic novel loved by a fellow literacy specialist’s young girls, the series Phoebe and Her Unicorn.  Using Fountas and Pinnell and Jennifer Serravallo’s Understanding Text and Readers,  I first examined what I know, book levels.  I rewatched the videos surrounding J. Serravallo’s book, then made a list of the qualities of books at Level Q.  At Q for plot and setting, students should be able to retell most important event from a complex plot identifying more than two of the stories problems including internal and external aspects.  Students should identify the theme of the story based on most of the book’s events including using accumulative details to explain the complexity of a social issue.  Vocabulary and figurative language should be solved using contextual clues.  In character, students should identify less obvious character traits comparing past traits to evolving traits.   I wondered about doing this complex work in this ‘simple’ novel, but I decided to give it a try.

In terms of graphic novel elements, there are four basic elements of graphic novels unique to the genre, panels and gutters, description and word balloons, sound effects and motion lines, and art including the creator’s style and how that contributes to the story line.

Off I go to read Phoebe and her Unicorn.  I had anticipated that I could just zip through this novel,  it’s only 215 pages, but I found myself stopping to ‘reread’ and contemplate all of the elements of both a novel at this level and this novel.

IMG_6003What I noticed first is that Phoebe and her Unicorn is not told chronologically.  The basic storyline weaves chronologically across the text, but on page twenty, a random cut-away story happened.  There is probably an official name for these.  As I went on, every 5-7 pages, a quick one page exchange would happen between Phoebe and Marigold that was unexpected and disconnected to the narrative.  Building characters?  A chapter change?

For graphic novel characteristics, the panels and gutters are fairly straight-forward in this novel, they seem to read mostly left to right, top to bottom.  There are a few images with no borders at all. Time passage is usually marked with words. There are a few split panels that I would like to point out and talk about with students.

Dialogue and word balloons are also mostly straight forward with no narration only dialogue.  I think most students would be able to tell who is speaking even in the panels where you cannot see the other speaker. There are thicker, larger, bold, color and fancy script mostly to indicate how the unicorn speaks differently from Phoebe and when Phoebe is surprised.

Sound effects and motion lines would be good to search for, point out, and discuss.  I am wondering if most students could recognize these. Considering how many words are written in different size, shape, and font to indicate how they are said, this is probably the larger obstacle to comprehension.

The art includes mostly very simple backgrounds if any.  There are subtle color changes for night and when the unicorn is being particularly magical.  It’s a nice touch.  Does the simplicity help or hinder the understanding?

So here I am, day 2, trying to finish this graphic novel and happy-ish that I brought home a couple more to decipher.  Maybe I’ll have a good lesson down in a few days.  All recommendations welcome.

Tuesday Morning Collaboration #sol20

Today I write in isolation, but not alone.  I write in the March Slice of Life Challenge, writing each day in March with my fellow writers under the guidance of Two Writing Teachers.  You can still join us, writing is healing and communal.  If you’re reading this, check out this blog about what to do right now. Today I’m inspired by the meeting I should be having right now, but am not…

Tuesday Morning Collaboration #sol20

March 17, 2020

Happy St. Patrick’s Day.   I hope you’re still sleeping, but I’m thinking of you. If we were together, I would have probably brought some soda bread and green napkins.  We would have ‘coffee’.  Well, A. would have had a yeti of tea and M. would have had a iced coffee from Dunkin’.  A. would close the door and say good morning.  She might be empty handed.   Sometimes she waits for a good idea and then writes it on a stickie with a borrowed pen.  M. would open her fancy notebook, 1/2 sized. Her flair color matching her mood or hoped-for mood.  We’d huddle and we smile at each other.  How are you doing? 

I’d have a list in my notebook of things I wanted to talk over with you.  Hopefully, I’d hesitate to see if you had something in mind.  Most times you do.  I’d have my units on the table, my phone, my notebook, my coffee.  Sometimes I don’t write in my notebook until you go away.  Sometimes I draw something in there or on a stickie to illustrate a thought or an idea.  Today I have a few things I want to talk over in this virtual space. What I don’t want to talk over is the reality and uncertainty of our current situation.  So I’m going to ignore it… for now.

Screen Shot 2020-03-17 at 7.50.23 AMFirst, I’m excited by the work A. has been doing with the ‘narrative task’ and creative writing in her room.  She’s excited too.  I’m sure she’s told you about it, but can we just talk about how it works and how we might expand it and will it work again next year.  I do love these books we chose for the Book Madness… I want to get the other Boston Marathon title.  Wait, back to the idea.  She began with Girl Running, taking four scenes after she had read and loved it with her class and let them ‘blow up’ the scene.  I wish I had some samples of her students’ writing, but I kept the photo copies of the spaces where she stopped.  I would stop at those pages and talk about why they are good.  Yes, they do illustrate the story arc. What a strong reinforcement!  She chose the rising action where Bobbie was crouching behind the forsythia right before she joined the race.  Then she chose the place where she revealed she was a woman runner.  We probably look these over and talk about presenting them to the students.  Would we ask them where this was on the story arc?  Would we let everyone pick the place where they want to write?  What guidance might we add to the narrative task?  What if we paired this book again for the compare and contrast using Her Fearless Run or The Girl Who Ran.  I’ll bring out Drawn Together. I hear that this book is a student favorite.  This book requires some interpretation by the students.  I want to hear what your students were thinking.  A. used this book as well.  I wasn’t there for this lesson.  We might look through the book together and think about how to present it.

I’ll mention how the newer teachers are struggling with the MCAS unit I drafted.  I will admit that some of it is my fault.  It needs some revision between the calendar and the day-to-day.  I’ll talk about some coaching I’ve done there and what I hope to do in the future.

Our time’s getting short but I want to share this idea that I saw on twitter. Screen Shot 2020-03-17 at 8.10.55 AM Did you see that retweet I posted about using the Snack Attack video for character change in the essay?  Remember when we hoped that some videos might be used on the state tests?   Even that year we did the PARCC.?  We could show the video.  Love it and then think about character change.  What if we did that work in start-and-stops with table groups or two partnerships together?

Our time is past over as usual.  There’s so much to share and talk about.   I read City Spies yesterday, but don’t really want to promote a mystery in fourth.  It did have a strong story arc with lots of attempts.  It would be interesting to see how the students mapped it and what they thought the climax was.  That’s always so tricky.  I saw that M. read Coyote Sunrise.  I love that book, great character change, but it’s so sad.  What next?  I am thinking about reading the historical fiction book, They Bicycle Spy.  I know you have already read it, but I was wondering if I could create a mentor arc of another historical fiction for talking it over with the other teachers.

Have a great day!  Glad we had this time together…