Alchemy #sol19

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Alchemy #sol19

November 12, 2019

Last Friday afternoon I had one of those moments that usually is just out of reach, a moment when the enthusiasm and genius of a fellow educator only needs my smile as tender for it to take off into a roaring fire.  I do often see the flames of great ideas, the sparks of hopefulness, and even the glimmer of the newly hatched thinking.  But a full blown brush fire of an idea is such a beautiful thing to behold, particularly on a Friday afternoon.

It may be important to note that my contribution to this brush fire spark is so tertiary that it can’t be discerned.  I am a long time encourager of this educator, a big fan, an instigator, and a fellow edge stretcher, so it makes perfect sense that not only did she want to share her idea with me, she was too anxious to start it to wait to share first.  To her credit, it was pure genius, way beyond what I might have coached her to do.  Her excitement and eagerness to jump in was beaming from her.  I know that her enthusiasm will carry it to a very successful fruition.

When I read about alchemy in a cooking reference over the weekend, how one food, consumed with another food or drink, is completely transformed in taste and experience by the process, I thought that’s what I’m looking for every day, a sprinkle of something that transforms so much.

That transformation was once for me all about students. A moment or a collection of moments with struggling students that transformed how they saw themselves as learners. Hopefully forever changed by those realizations.  As coaching evolved, so did the moments.  Most moments I spend now are with a whole class or just with their teachers.  Sprinkling those somethings in, the transformation is nearly invisible to me.  I can be sad about that. What does that sadness make the alchemy?  Less about the magic and more about the person, a sharp contrast to the magic that we all want to hold.

So here’s to a new kind of transformation, one where I (and others) encourage learners of all ages to transform themselves, to transform others, to cause transformations.  The work should be able to go on, without me, without any one person.  As my friend often quotes,  you have always had the magic inside of you.  So I’ll be creating transformations when possible.  I’ll be encouraging transformations when I am able.  Most definitely,  I’ll be celebrating them wherever they happen.

 

img_0602I write alongside my amazing transformative writing colleagues on Tuesday encouraged by  the amazing alchemists at twowritingteachers.com.

Total Effort #sol19

Total Effort #sol19

Just arrived. I’ll set up

I sent this text this morning, but it could have been sent most mornings over the last 20 years to be honest.  Wildly overcommitted… today.  But today, the overcommitment mentioned above created a sandwich with a very satisfying day of professional development for our staff.  Each grade level, an hour and a half of deep discussion, planning, and trying it out.  It’s a perfect combination.

It’s also messy.  Here’s a small story of today’s mess.  Our staff developer has worked with us for two years.  This is her first year with the primary grade teams, but she is well known to me.  We planned out the skeleton of this learning day last week.  As a team, we work well together and are willing to give most lessons with most students a try at the drop of a hat.

A small story about that attitude.  Often this drop-of-a-hat planning requires a quick trip to the literacy center for any number of books, office supplies, grand conversation notebooks, mentor texts, or notebooks.  Today, we got the idea (her, not me) that we should use an actual Big Book instead of a document camera or a picture book.

Aghast,  I said,  I didn’t purchase any of these books.  They’ve been here forever… I’m not sure.  But we were committed to Big Books, so she began to riffle through the collection.  Finally, she began to sort books out onto the literacy center floor and I noticed that they were books that we probably both used when we first started teaching.  Ones that we remembered fondly, but haven’t looked at in quite a while. See where this is going. 

So we brought the books back to the training room and lined them along the chair rail around the room.  I noticed then that they were all by a particularly famous author of guided reading texts, all decades old.

One by one the teachers encouraged by us, picked up a book to read and then fairly quickly returned them to the shelf. This book is weird, they said.  Hmmm. We read a few.  They were odd in that out of date sort of way.  The two of us undaunted, chose one to read ourselves and demonstrate to the class. (First Grade) . The book was filled with animals, when one laughed at the other, the other would threaten to eat them and then do just that.  Page after page of one cantankerous animal being eaten by a slightly larger one. That dog can’t eat the cat. said one very astute first grader.  As you might guess at the end of the story, the alligator gets the hiccups and much like that little old lady, all the animals rejoin.  In the end, all the animals go happily off with each other.  Crazy, inappropriate book.

The students were astounded that we offered up this crazy tale, but by page 2 were reading along noticing word endings and becoming more and more fluent.  All of us enjoyed the reading, not because the book was great, but because the company was.  A passel of first graders, some enthusiastic teachers, a moment of time, and a sketchy plan with a purpose.  A almost perfect combination.

How does this relate to my wild overcommitment or my last minute searching and planning?  Perhaps this is what they mean by not letting the good get in the way of the great.  We didn’t need a perfect book, a perfect plan, or even a perfect amount of time.  The readers showed what they knew,  we gave them a chance to try out their skills, and the two adults (and perhaps the observers) had a jolly good literacy experience.  Next time, a teacher will try these ideas out.  That teacher might have a better plan.  She might have the tools all perfectly set out.  He might have a better book. (I hope so… I’ll be buying some this week).  Or maybe they won’t.  Maybe they will get the idea to try this on their way to school,  they will read through a book they have quickly, plan out a lesson in ten minutes, and artfully deliver some magic all before lunch.

I hope so.

I’ll be wildly overcommitted tomorrow as well, but if you have a wild idea to try, I’m all in.

100% Lily #sol19

100% Lily  #sol19

July 30, 2019

We’ve reached the midpoint of teacher summer here in New England and that’s just when I usually feel like it’s winding down.  I generally give myself the month of July to indulge in whatever projects I want and then when August rolls around I begin ramping up to the start of the school year.  Over the years, Bob and I have developed a summer routine around the flexibility in my schedule that only summer can afford.

This summer, I have had one driving project, my dog Lily.  Our dog, an eighty or so pound rescued lab mix had a rough late spring this year.  She developed a significant limp with research was found to be a torn ACL.  Yep,  a sport’s injury for my dog.  Thus started months of work for Lily and also me.  The first month I was still in school and Lily was on the DL.  Totally rest.  One floor living, limited starts, anti-inflammatories.  A short, short leash.  Very difficult for a dog who loves to run at the park and take long walks.  Honestly, it wasn’t that easy for me either.  We started to worry what was next.

When we had an X-ray in early June, it was determined that her ACL was in fact completely torn.  While under sedation for the X-ray, they cleaned Lily’s teeth.  For non-dog owners, it’s much the same as our teeth cleaning, scrubbing and polishing and noticing inside the dog’s mouth.  What they noticed was a broken molar.  So in the midst of our rehabilitation plan, we also had a tooth pulled.  Picture a teenager having his wisdom teeth out.  All the same…

So we, along with Lily’s doctor, developed a strategy for her rehabilitation.  There were choices, surgery or other holistic methods.  We chose to start with holistic methods, so Lily had a regiment of herbal supplements, laser treatments and VOM, a form of chiropractic medicine for animals.  The initial appointments were 2 a day for a week, then 3-4 days a week,  then one, and now we are at one appointment for laser and VOM every other week.

Last week,  Lily started physical therapy.  Twice a day, Lily and I go up and down our steep driveway for 5 minutes.  Five minutes of up and down.  By the third trip, she’s panting pretty hard.  This is followed by ice.  After a week of that treatment, we, just today,  ventured beyond our drive for a five minute walk down the street and back.  She was beside herself with delight until the journey home proved to be challenging.

We have started to call Lily’s journey, 100% Lily, and compare her to New England Patriot’s wide receiver, Julian Edelman, who’s rehab is outlined in the documentary, 100% Julian.  I’ve worn a boot before for sprains and bone spurs.  I have had a cortizone shot in my arm.  Watching Lily fight back to be a four legged dog again is inspirational.  Helping her do that is making me a better person.

So today from our training camp,  I reflect on how Lily’s journey back from injury and our assistance of her rehab is like the partnership we make with students and perhaps teachers who are struggling in their own ways.  Sometimes, they don’t fully understand the struggle itself and the way to recovery so to speak, requires determination, planning, and not a small amount of patience.

Today,  she’s stepping mostly without a limp, though slowly.  She was excited to see and sniff the neighbors’ lawns for the first time in perhaps ten weeks.  Let me be reminded of that when the road at school feels frustrating and long, 100% Lily.  Eye on the prize.  Patience in all.

Dream Home #sol19

For the month of March , I will be participating in the Slice of Life Challenge (#sol19) sponsored by Two Writing Teachers. I will be slicing each day for 31 days inspired by my work as a literacy specialist and coach, my life, and my fellow bloggers.
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Dream Home #sol19

March 19, 2019

Perhaps we started talking about our dream house when we moved out East. Maybe it was before that.  It could have been when we actually build our “dream house” years ago.  I’m not sure.  Many of Saturday afternoon, over cocktails, on vacation, random morning talks have been not so much what a dream house might be, but where.

The talk has been getting a little more serious in recent years.  Vacationing in places we might move when we retire.  Thinking about real estate and bedrooms, pools and porches.  Never actually getting to the place where we did something about it.   We were looking, but not looking.

Then I read an article about a location that is said to be the next up and coming place.  I looked up real estate in this location. A great deal was rough looking, not quite where I thought I wanted to live…  For the first time,  I said aloud… maybe we should buy somewhere before we actually want to leave here.

This statement shifted our thinking slightly.  We are nowhere near buying a second house.  However,  I think we are in a place where we are going to explore with more purpose.  Try a few places on for size.  Perhaps plan.

Considering these ideas on my commute today, the thought occurred to me that this might be like changing curriculum. As I sat in our professional development today, I thought we could have stayed on the sidelines waiting for our ‘dream house’ to come to us, but we took on a ‘fixer upper’ two and three years ago before we quite knew what we were doing.  Instead of saying, this current house suits us just fine, we jumped in on an opportunity and began renovations.  Like some other renovations, these can be painful.

Renovating all the moving pieces at once is painful.  Teachers need training and time to learn a new curriculum stance.  Students do not have the foundational skills that some lessons, activities, and units presuppose.  Their teachers are back to the drawing board, building a scaffold from prior years’ curriculums not taught fully yet.  We don’t have all the materials that would make this build seem optimal.

This is the time for a barn raising.  All hands on deck.  We teach these folks some things who talk it over with others who try it with a few more.  Those many say to the readers and writers, let’s give this a go.

I hope this house of literacy will be fairly close to completion before the two of us actually move to that retirement dream house.  The learning community is not tearing down the walls anymore.  Now we are rebuilding.  All the supports are going to be stronger for the personal care everyone is taking.

Each year we’ve moved forward, mucked around, had some success.  It might be a few more years until we are completely there.  Being the pioneers that we are, we moved in before it was ‘move-in’ ready.  We’re living in ‘construction dust’…

Monday Bookshelf: (Un)Flat Characters #sol19

For the month of March , I will be participating in the Slice of Life Challenge (#sol19) sponsored by Two Writing Teachers. I will be slicing each day for 31 days inspired by my work as a literacy specialist and coach, my life, and my fellow bloggers.

Monday Bookshelf:  Character Study in Intermediate Edition #sol19

March 18, 2019

If you are reading this, you might have the same problem I do.  Bookshelves bursting at the seams and an organization system that works one day, but not the next.  Welcome to my Monday bookshelf, where I will organize a stack of books within a category.  Hopefully this stack will resonate.

We meet up on Friday mornings at 7:30 and co-teach with each other through the reading (writing) block each day.  Sometimes we chat on the fly before I go to my first class at the beginning of her planning.  Sometimes she stops me on my way down the hall.  Sometimes I drop in as I am walking by.  We talk a lot.

Screen Shot 2019-03-17 at 8.50.31 PMThis week we are talking about what it means to be in a book club and the dreaded flat characters.  I won’t mention the flat characters.  You know who they are.  They lurk around in easier chapter books or series where the author keeps that main character as flat as a pancake. When you say something brilliant like

develop a theory about a trait of your main character and use evidence to grow that idea, 

that darn old flat character really won’t give up one single thing.  He or she just sits there on the pages moving forward with not a real emotion one.

Help me!  I have some real emotions. 

So here we sat with this problem along with another problem… Harry Potter.  Now I love Harry Potter, not as much as the next person, but I do think he’s pretty special.  HOWEVER,

itsgoingtobenearlyimpossibleforthatnineyearoldtopickonecharactertraitandevidencefromaSEVENHUNDREDpagebook. 

First my recommendation for books with characters for third graders who love Harry Potter.  patentpending

Screen Shot 2019-03-17 at 8.49.30 PMBeastologist.   Ok, the actual title is Flight of the Phoenix (Nathanial Flood, Beastologist)  This book is short.  This book is easy.  This book is filled with villians and twists and surprises and magic and… an orphan.  I know,  WINNING.  Also a series.

Another similar short book is Spiderwick.

If you want something in the same vein, but a harder read,  Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos will fit the bill.  Again a series.  Screen Shot 2019-03-17 at 8.49.13 PM.pngThese books are for your HP lovers.

The flat character lovers need something else.

Screen Shot 2019-03-17 at 8.49.00 PMFor Lovers of the flat character books,  perhaps Ellray Jakes is Not a Chicken.  The character isn’t much less flat, but he does learn something.   This is also a place where I might insert Alvin Ho or Calvin Coconut who seem much less flat.  I insert male protagonists here because I am thinking about certain flat characters.  If your flat characters are perhaps fairies,  I think Spiderwick might work or perhaps you could work in some strong girls like,  Lola Levine or  Dyamonde DanielsJasmine Toguchi, or Sofia MartinezScreen Shot 2019-03-17 at 8.47.35 PM

definitely a theme here

All these books are not expensive.  They are relatively easy to read and find.  They are part of a series.  And… we will be book tasting them very soon in a third grade near me.

So my teacher colleague and I read and talked about some books.  Some fresh books will come and be loved by her friends.  Some old flat friends will stay and we’ll work through those skills with short text and picture books.  We will pick up that story another time.

From My Notebook: Staying with the Hard Work #sol19

For the month of March , I will be participating in the Slice of Life Challenge (#sol19) sponsored by Two Writing Teachers. I will be slicing each day for 31 days inspired by my work as a literacy specialist and coach, my life, and my fellow bloggers.

Notebook Saturdays

Through my work as a literacy coach,  I have teachers that I meet and collaborate with throughout the week.  Usually these meetings are at 7:30 a.m. on a scheduled day of the week. I  meet with each teacher or team for 1/2 hour keeping notes of what we are working on.  Our school is an UOS of Study school following the work of Lucy Calkins and colleagues in this our first year of full implementation.  Most of our meetings are in their classrooms. Some teachers will come with questions, sometimes we plan out what we will work on the next week, sometimes I have a teaching technique or skill  I’ve noticed or a suggestion. I keep a journal entry of each meeting to keep me thinking. I am thankful to Tammy Mulligan, Teachers for Teachers, for assisting me in working on offering a menu of ideas during this coaching time.  This is still, after years, a work in progress.

Thinking about Writing about Reading:  Book Clubs, Literary Essay, & the Narrative Task #sol19

March 16, 2019

IMG_3575The afternoon before they warned me.  Be ready!  We’re bringing a lot to talk about tomorrow.  Maybe we need some extra time.  Sure, I say.  You know I’ll be here around 7.

Sure enough, around ten after 7,  the show up, arms full, already talking to each other.  I imagine all the way down from their rooms in  the other side of the building,  Anxious to see what they are thinking, the papers are quickly spread all over the table.  Waiting and listening for the kernel,  I take a sip of coffee and open my notebook.  This conversation had started the week before. The intersection of historical fiction book clubs, literary essays, and the looming state test tasks have been a hot topic.

Last week, after a free write about the the character trait of Fox in Fox, the students struggled to develop a thesis for Number the Stars and the books in their book clubs.  Having some personal theories, I wait for an opening and ask, point to the place where you lost them. There is a pause where these thoughtful teachers consider, then go back and look at their student work.  I wait.

Make to the start.  What’s the goal?  Grow an idea about a character using evidence.  Two overall problems emerge:  idea is weak or evidence doesn’t strongly support thesis.  The students seem to be heavily reliant on retell or prediction.  What’s next?  Go back.  Try again with a familiar text that they completed a lot of character work with in the fall, The Last Kiss by Ralph Fletcher available in the book Marshfield Dreams.

Our final decisions:  Limit choice to Complications A Character Has or Lesson Learned                                            Teach Back into the Skill                                                                                                                      Reexamine Results                                                                                                                                  Have student create a theory chart with evidence across text

They came back with the more notes and ideas the next week.  Stay tuned.

 

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theory chart

IMG_3599 Growing an ideaIMG_3686.jpgJot Menu

 

Routine Redux #sol19

Screen Shot 2019-03-15 at 5.47.55 AMRoutine Redux:  Reunion Day #sol19

March 15, 2019

We wake predawn… 3 a.m.  Coffee is dripping through the pot in the kitchen.  The sound is comforting.  I know that if I can get through the next ten minutes,  a cup will be the reward.  Clothes laid out in the bathroom to minimize the wake up of others.  Lunch in the refrigerator.  Teacher bag packed.  Quick shower.  Have to have a quick shower.  As I dry my hair,  I look through the agenda I downloaded yesterday thinking about what I might go to.  What if I finally connect with my Connecticut friends too?

Check the time and put it into high gear.  Have to be at the meeting point by 3:30.  Quietly out the door.  Bob will take you out later Lily when it’s really time to get up.  She looks at me accusingly.  Dark on the steps.  Dark on the walk.  Dark in the garage.  Dark on the driveway.  Dark on the street.  All the roads are empty and dark as I drive to the meeting place.

Usually first, I wait in the quiet car.  Whose turn is it to drive?  Oh, mine. I check the seats, the floor.  All fine.  Gas and car wash the day before.  The car fills with Pandora, a yoga music station.  The lull.  Lights illuminate the car and she is there.   She opens her door, grabs her bags, her water bottle.  She leans over as she opens the car door and smiles a tired  smile at me.   She stretches her long legs into the small car.  She never adjusts the seat.  Sometimes I remember to stretch it back for her before she arrives.

We laugh for a moment about how sometimes we go some other random way that the GPS takes us, missing the Merritt all together.  Where is the first Starbucks?  Hartford?!?

And then… the words start pouring out.  In the darken car, in the long hours, we talk. Talk.  This is almost the best part.