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,


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.














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.

Thursday Reflection #OLW #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.

unnamedThursday Reflection #OLW #sol19

March 7, 2019

I chose a word in January to guide some choices that I made throughout this year.  It’s the eight year that I have chosen a word.  This year’s word is reflection. Reflection.

I wrote a few days ago about a entry from my collaboration journal where I encouraged strongly two of my collaborative teachers to chuck the scripted assessment for the end of the Information Reading/Writing units (third grade) and take up slightly modified ideas that more closely aligned to the work they were doing in their classrooms.  You can read about my initial idea here.

The first idea was to use an information topic that individual students were working on in their genius hour projects to have the students do a flash draft in information writing. The plan for this assessment was to inform their genius hour progress and complete an end of unit assessment in informational writing.  In hindsight,  I should have coached into two things that we consistently do when writing.  The students should have had an opportunity to turn and share everything they were going to write with their writing partners.  We know how important the oral rehearsal is, especially with our school population.  The second reminder is also completely on me,  even though we wrote about something specific to the students, we should have introduced the task with the same assessment directions that we would have used in the writing progression work.

Please keep in mind that you’ll have only this one period to complete this, so you’ll need to plan, draft, revise, and edit in one sitting. Write in a way that shows all that you know about information writing.

“In your writing, make sure you: • Write an introduction. • Elaborate with a variety of information. • Organize your writing. • Use transition words. • Write a conclusion.”

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exemplar text from UOS

I hope the teachers were informed about many things in the students’ written essays, especially thinking about them in comparison to an exemplar.  I often think we are expecting too much of some things and not enough of others.  Few of the writers used parts or sections in their writing.  Many of them used transition words, expert words and had an introduction and conclusion.   Mostly success.


The second task we tried was more complex.  The teachers selected a text that they had read often and used as a mentor text.  Carter Reads the Newspaper for one class.  Harvesting Hope for the other.  Both of these texts are lengthy picture books with complex ideas new to all of the students.  We typed the text so it would be presented in  format similar to the testing protocol and other assessments. We considered presenting it through google classroom, but in the end used paper copies.  Through Newsela, we located an article at a third grade level that was related to the popularity of black history for Carter Reads the Newspaper, a book about Carter Woodson, the driving force behind Black History Month and an article about the continued plight of farmworkers in the United States to go with Harvesting Hope, a picture book biography of Cesar Chavez.  The first day the students summarized the informational article and the second day, the writers used cross-text synthesis to examine either black history or the condition of farm workers.

Perhaps the teachers would have gotten a cleaner assessment from the easier narrative nonfiction text provided in the unit paired with an equally easy informational article, but those articles were about roller coasters.  The students thought about the development and promotion of black history and what has contributed to the rise in popularity of civil rights sites and other related black history museums.  They thought about how little the conditions of farm workers whose products we eat has changed in the nearly sixty years since the Farm Workers March.  Their conclusions rang of so what and now what in a way that I don’t think writing about roller coaster would have.  They will walk away from these days with more than a thought that they wrote for two solid writing workshops.  Perhaps they will consider both of these topics for a long time to come.  I hear Lucy Calkins reminding me that we are raising citizens.  I know I’ll consider how we introduced a timely, important topic to them.

The Stuff They Carry #sol19

The Stuff They Carry  #sol19

February 26, 2019

I am definitely not the art teacher, but I appreciate the work she does with our students each day and admire the fruits of that labor as I walk down our main corridor each morning.  This morning I was thinking about a completely different blog when this display struck me.  0-2

All these smiling faces. Well maybe except that one very hipster looking young lady in the bottom row.  But then,  I noticed this…0-4

This young friend wasn’t thinking about one thing.  He was thinking about more than one thing at once.  Perhaps he couldn’t decide about the one thing or maybe that is how his brain works, lots of things in there at once, quite possibly very revealing.  I This first grader’s thinking is a mystery to me.  I like his wide smile and bright eyes. I can tell that on the right he’s considering a basketball and a football. I’m not sure about the left.  I am reasonably sure that our wonderful art teacher discussed each artist’s thinking as they worked away in her sunny art room.

This made me think about a focus conversation I had midday yesterday.  A teacher and I were discussing a student’s current progress.  She had set an executive functioning goal along with his reading goal for the student to maintain independent work for ten minutes.  She sighed.  I don’t think he can stay focused at all.  But then we dug in,  could he restate the directions?  He could.  That takes focus.  Maybe the task was too big or too daunting for him right now.

I was thinking about that conversation and that student when I looked at the self portraits.  What would be his self portrait?  He seems sad and tired when I am with him in reading.  Does the work feel too difficult?  Is he silly to avoid the difficulty?  So today when I was with him in his class,  I looked with new eyes.  What might we do to help him?

0-5.jpgOur Art teacher had a plan when she did these self portraits with the first graders.  Still when I chatted with her about them today,  she said there were a few who struggled with creating that self view.  One was worried about failure before he began.  As she talked and drew with him,  he didn’t see himself as successful and anticipated criticism.  At his request,  she didn’t display his self portrait.

Other saw themselves like the happy girls I shared at the beginning.  Covered with hearts, I hope this is the life view they are carrying now and into the future.  What can we as educators do to keep that happy spirit afloat?

My young sad reader has had a lot of trauma in his young life.  I imagine risk taking and difficulty are something he would understandably like to avoid.  What tiny steps can we take that will germinate that seed of success?  I offered a token idea up to him today full of choices and encouragement, hoping to create in him a self portrait of a happy reader.   He was tentatively open to it.  We’ll try that first step tomorrow.  download.jpg