December Cookies #sol17

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December Cookies

December 12, 2017

In late November,  people in our school start asking me about “THE COOKIES”.  Funny,  I never once consider that they would become “THE COOKIES”.

Eight years ago,  I dropped out of the sky (well Northern Illinois) into the Northeast having never having been here.  My husband and I left our (nearly grown) sons and family in the Midwest and moved to near Boston MA.  That first year,  we had our house on the market full of our things in northern Illinois and we rented a furnished 1750’s farmhouse, a far cry from our former home on the prairie and our familiar possessions.

Being a literacy specialist, that first year (and many since) were about making relationships as I could,  learning the ways of a new district and building, and searching for a way to call this new normal, home.  Everyone was polite.  I kept busy, but I longed for the rituals of my former life.

When we arrived at Thanksgiving that first year and there were three of us instead of 12 or more, I began to have a terrible homesickness that I couldn’t seem to shake.  The kitchen of our rented farmhouse was the best room in the house. It was large, warm and inviting with a sunny window over the sink, the same oven I had had at home, and a baking station with a professional mixer.

My husband’s sister and I had always gotten together when the kids were small and baked cookies for one or two Saturdays before the holidays.  We created cookie trays for each of us, Bob’s mother and dad, and extras for family friends and co-workers.  We had our favorites, both new and from our own mothers:  peanut butter cookies with kisses, sugar cookie stars, and pecan snowballs.  We baked and ate and filled our kitchens with love and warmth. Along with many family holiday rituals, they fit like an old sweater.

Back to our new reality,  Bob and I were just two.  There was no way for us to eat through batches of cookies.  I’m not sure when it came to me, but I decided to bake a batch of cookies every day during that first December in Massachusetts.  I had never made 25  different types of cookies, though full disclosure,  I had make at least one batch of cookies a week for thirty years.  At first,  I didn’t really say anything at work,  I just started bringing the cookies in the morning and leaving them in the teachers’ lunchroom.  Familiar cookies at first.  One’s that my mom,  Bob’s mom, my old friends, or Mary and I had baked over the years.  Then it quite literary snowballed.

People started discussing their favorite cookies.  When it came out that it was me baking these cookies,  people would comment on their favorites,  ask if I could make something they had heard of or enjoyed in their families, and leave recipes in my mailbox, on my desk, and in my inbox.  They looked forward to the morning, when the cookies would arrive and either ate one right away or squirreled it away for later in the day.  In the magic of cookies,  it made us more than co-workers, more like co-conspirators.  The cookies were transformative for me.  Something besides work to talk about and so many people to talk to.

We trudged through that December with Peanut Butter Blossoms and Cherry White Chocolate Rice Krispie Treats.  Eggnog Snickerdoodles and Hot Chocolate Cookies.  Spritz and Italian Christmas Cookies.  I learned a lot.  Not surprisingly,  I learned a lot more about baking.  I know about cookie sizing, best ingredients,  what kinds of butter, parchment, flour.  I research cookies and experimented on so many.  I don’t know I wasn’t afraid they wouldn’t like them.  Perhaps I thought everyone loves a little cookie.

As we approached the winter holiday,  our psychologist at that time asked me, “What are you going to do after the holiday?”  I wasn’t sure what she meant.  Christmas was over and hopefully so would be my need to bake cookies.  “What are you going to make after the holiday?”  I hadn’t given it one solitary thought.  I thought my public baking had an end point.  But no…   Marilyn told me about a book she had read,  All Cakes Considered.  Melissa Gray (NPR) had written a book about perfecting her mom’s cake baking prowess by baking a cake every Monday and bringing it into NPR.  Marilyn thought, as did others, that this was a terrific idea for me.

I’m not sure why I thought it would be a terrific idea.  While I had made a few cakes during my life,  I wasn’t an expert by any stretch.  A home cook with little training except food science courses in college,  I impulsively bought the book and began to search the internet for recipes of cakes for the newly christened Cake Monday.  So Monday cakes came to be. A story for another day.

IMG_0444When the next December rolled around,  Bob and I were fairly settled in our Massachusetts ‘permanent’ home with one son ‘temporarily’ ensconced in our lower level.  Our older son was due to come for Christmas and our familiar holiday decoration with Christmas village, copious ornaments, and favorite knickknacks in place.  While I still missed the warmth of family, having spent Thanksgiving in Chicago, we were ready to face the holidays much brighter that the year before.

IMG_0426Surprising to me, people began to ask about the “December Cookies”.  The hallways had snippets of conversation about cookies.  People casually reminded me about their favorites from the year before.  There was an expectation of cookies.  How could I say no to that?

From that day forward for the last eight years,  cookies show up in the teachers’ lounge every morning during the month of December.  The week before December 1st,  I make a calendar or list of the cookies.  Many, many of them now are favorites of someone.  Christy loves eggnog snickerdoodles.  Melissa has to have cherry white chocolate krispies treats and hot chocolate cookies.  A relative newcomer said,  “Do you remember my favorite?”  “It’s red velvet.”

So each evening after dinner or sometime early morning before work,  the delicious aroma of vanilla, butter, and sugar fills our home. My husband has resigned himself to imperfect cookies stuffed in his lunch or the occasional snuck cookie from the cooling rack.  My son rattles the Christmas cookie jar on the counter and gives me a half glare that there aren’t any cookies in our jar.  Eight years.  136 batches of cookies.  Close to 5,000 cookies later,  I’m making a list, checking who is out what day so I don’t make her favorite when she is away.  You can find my cookie recipe collection on my Pinterest page, readingteachsu under Christmas Cookies. Someday, maybe,  this adventure will be a book.  Tomorrow’s cookies are hot chocolate, but you better stop by early,  they don’t last long.

 

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Thank you to the Slice of Life Community and Two Writing Teachers for all of your support and inspiration and this week,  a special thank you to Tammy Mulligan for encouraging me to tell this story.

 

 

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Before You Silence, Listen

small steps

Writing workshop used to be a “no talking” time in my classroom.  As soon as the classical music started, so did my reminders of “silent work.”  Conferences and small groups were interrupted by my need to shhhhh.  As voices spread across the classroom, it was my cue that stamina was up, and so we began our transition to partner time.

We can be so quick to silence interruptions — during instruction, private reading time, whole-class conversations.  First, I think it’s important to make realistic expectations.  Have you ever been to an adult meeting where there are no interruptions?  More importantly,  when we silence student talk, we are exerting our authority, controlling the conversation, and may actually may be doing more harm than good.  I’ve taken a step back recently, given myself a wait time before I manage.  Here’s what I’ve almost silenced (and most definitely silenced in the…

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Books to Spotlight Small Moments #IMWAYR

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Examining Small Moments and Personal Narratives in the Workshop

December 4, 2017

In our building, we have been spending some planning and instruction time examining small moments, both in reading and writing workshop.  Having a few small moments or personal narratives to examine in writing workshop was never a problem.  We have our favorites:  Shortcut, Fireflies, Come on, Rain.  Small moments are easier to find perhaps than personal narratives.  What if the personal narrative isn’t exactly personal?  Some of my favorites:  Roller Coaster, The Snowy Day, The Relatives Came aren’t really told in the first person.  Does that diminish their usefulness as a mentor texts to our aspiring writers?

Here are a few things to consider when teaching small moments and personal narrative. Remembering that the purpose of small moment writing is that the writing is finite.  This gives our younger authors the ability to write in detail showing character’s small actions, dialogue and internal thinking.  We are working on stories becoming more and more cohesive with greater and greater detail.

What is our purpose for using a particular mentor text?  Are we working on watermelon/seed ideas?  Then texts like The Snowy Day, Blackout, and Roller Coaster are wonderful, inspiring text for our students to think about their own small moments.  I also use small books in their levels to tryout thinking.  In our Fountas and Pinnell  Leveled Literacy collection, The Muddy Mess is one book that are definitely about a small moment that many kids might have.  Soccer Game in Scholastic Hello Readers!  uses descriptive words to talk about just one soccer game.  This book is written in the first person and could be used as a interactive read aloud.

IMG_0424To pair a simple book like Soccer Game!  as a mentor text in small moment writing,  we could think about another game, perhaps one on the playground where we would use descriptions to go part by part through the game.

In Joy Cowley’s The New Cat,  the words are simple, describing the action in the pictures.  The pictures may help explain our younger readers and writers  thinking,  while the words describe a particular part.

Many other books might show real photos while explaining a child’s exploration of shopping, the aquarium or other places.  These books are wonderful for interactive read aloud or mentors for interactive writing so students can see themselves reading or writing themselves.

In a focus lesson, we can work with our students in a more difficult text.  One, where when we are the readers,  students can do the challenging thinking work.  In Owl Moon, a great text for 2nd grade, students can imagine why Jane Yolen chose to write this book while contemplating the small moment of going owling after dark.

In Sophie Was Really,  Really Angry or No David!,  students can use illustrations to think about the small moments along with strong feelings.  While No,David!  tells the story from the author’s point of view,  Sophie Was Really,  Really  Angry using third person.  Could we discuss with the students what words we might use if we were writing about feeling this way ourselves?

IMG_0421Sometimes,  books are long(ish),  after sharing the book in a read aloud, we might just use a page or a two-page spread to talk about a specific aspect of writing.  In The Relatives Came or Yard Sale,  we might stop at a page and talk about descriptions or stretching the moment, or making a picture in our minds.

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Sometimes,  we might use a completely different type of book, perhaps one that is a familiar read,  to focus on one aspect of an author’s craft:  clever endings,  strong leads,  rich details.  These books are endless and part of your natural library.  In my use, I try to limit these books to have human characters, thought it is particularly hard to avoid using the wonderful richness of Kevin Henkes’ and Lily’s Plastic Purse and others for small moments.

So,  my advice,  relax.  Sometimes we will have focus lessons and this won’t be work students are doing in their independent reading.  Sometimes,  we pair or double pair students up to do focus lesson work in picture books that we have chosen for the group. Sometimes, we won’t.  Perhaps, we will work through small moment, narrative arc work in interactive read aloud and we will have students look for a particular aspect, for example,  rich details, in all the text they are reading.  Whatever work we are doing,  it should be reflective our standards,  our formative assessments,  our student needs, and be an rich experience.

 

Messages from the Universe #sol17

IMG_0234 Messages From the Universe

November 28, 2017

Ten days ago, the universe sent me some messages.   I imagine this happens every day, but some days I’m too busy to notice.  Being too busy to notice,  that’s what my message was all about.

As most humans, I have a ‘to do’ list,  a ‘shower’ list, and unfortunately, often a ‘car’ list.  Those lists are sometimes compounded by lots of chats I have during the day with both the adults I work with and the students.

My personal goal for this year is to find connections between those lists, those chats, and observing the universe from my book collection.  But first let me share the messages…

Now in truth,  that Wake Up message on my calendar was to wake up our son for an appointment he had in the city that morning, but knowing that didn’t stop me from noticing the message.

When I noticed that message,  I had been writing a list of answers to questions for an interview.  One of the teachers, for her grad class, was charged with asking a literacy specialist three simple questions:  What do you consider to be essential practice  for classroom teachers of literacy?  What are the greatest challenges that confront you? What job related success have made you feel most proud?  I hadn’t expected these answers to be difficult for me.  Jeez,  I’ve been a literacy specialist/interventionist for a LONG time.

This list message and the ensuing conversation with my teacher colleague brought me up short.  This is where I realized that much like I coach everyone else,  I should be looking at my “bright spots”,  my incremental successes and not solely on what I was striving to next.

As I write this tonight,  I had a great day watching another coach, a superior coach, do her magic.  I celebrated her.  I celebrated the students we observed.  I celebrated the honesty and learning stance the teachers we met with took.  I wasn’t able to see my own hand in any of it…

So tonight when I am making dinner and tomorrow morning in the shower and on my drive,  instead of making a list of ‘to do’s’, I hope I can list the things I can celebrate.  I am fairly certain it will a list of things to do.  Screen Shot 2017-02-28 at 9.10.00 PM

 

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers and the amazing community of Slice of Life.  Read more slices here.

 

Path Change #sol17

Path Change

November 21, 2017AlcoveSprngsWagonSwales DIles

They say there are nine places in the United States where you can still see the marks of the Conestoga wagons.  As you may predict,  most of them are in rural areas of the western edge of the midwest to western states of Kansas and Nebraska.  These ruts represent so many, many families and individuals that followed the exact same path out to what they hoped was fortune.

In education,  we rarely have the luxury of a known path.  We often have our path changed for us or realize because of situational phenomena,  it’s time to change ourselves.  The good news is that disequilibrium strengthens your core.  It’s true or so I hear.  The school building is full of yoga balls to strengthen our cores and heighten our engagement.  So a little change is good.

A little change is good, but often change isn’t little.  Several curriculums change at once,  your class changes,  your room changes,  your colleagues change. A lot changes.  So what do we do when change is hard?

They say that an unexamined life isn’t worth living and so perhaps is our attitude toward change.  We are all positive about teaching our students flexibility and positive mindset and ‘not yet’,  but when it comes to our own little patch in the sun,  we struggle sometimes.  I say, that’s ok.

Growth is a messy, imperfect process.  If we weren’t out there experimenting with change and new and a little scary,  what kind of example for our future innovators would we be setting?

So just for today, this week,  this month,  this school year, let’s take some teaching risks.  Let’s move away from the ruts of the paths of the past.  Let’s try some new things.

It’s a good time to think of that kindergarten book we used to love.

13. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.  

Robert Fulghum

 

 

Screen Shot 2017-02-28 at 9.10.00 PM Thank you to Two Writing Teachers and my fellow slicers for the forum and the  encouragement.  Read more slices here.

 

A Whole Class Read — Things I Didn’t Expect

Long a fan of the whole class novel, I too have been inspired by Kate Roberts. I agree that it can be a powerful community building magic.

To Read To Write To Be

It started with a book, a featured dollar deal from Scholastic. With what would equal the cost of two hardback books, I got 34 copies of The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate.  I had no idea what I’d use them for. Perhaps student Christmas gifts.

The box sat in the back of my classroom for weeks.

And then, I found Kate Roberts’ ideas about teaching whole group novels.  In her September Ed Collab session, Kate described the possibility of using the pedagogy of reading workshop with a whole class read. This is well worth watching in that she outlines her journey from the traditional secondary whole class read to the workshop approach and then circles back to what could be harvested from each. After watching, here are my takeaways:

• The level of the text should not be “profoundly” difficult.

• Focus the teach by identifying one…

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The Gift of Time #sol17

IA11_Web_ArtistInResidenceGENHdrThe Gift of Time #sol17

October 17, 2017

A few weeks ago I heard an interview with the artist Bharti Kher  She was discussing the time she spent in residence at a wonderfully quirky Boston museum,  The Isabelle Stewart Gardner.  Bharti Kher said that the gift of living for a time at the Gardner was “the gift of time“.  She explained, “what you go away with is not immediately apparent.  Things emerge over time because as artists, we collect and build on our own libraries (in our head) over time.”

We’ve been talking a great deal in our district recently about the idea of instructional coaching. In an effort to further strengthen our tier 1 instruction, assist the transfer of discrete skills, and support the development of new curriculum, we’re blowing the doors off our old model of five time thirty minutes intervention.  On the surface,  this seems like truth, that changing our model away from a seemingly successful structure to a much more wavy one seems… well risky.

But I think of Bharti living in the Gardner,  sitting in the amazingly beautiful courtyard, spending real, real time looking at a single painting and in my core I believe, if I can create that gift of time, for myself, my colleagues,  the students,  then this new model stands a fighting chance.

When I thing about what you go away with is not immediately apparent,  I know that visit after visit, I might catch glimpses of things a teacher won’t remember to tell me in the literacy center or in a early morning collaborative conversation.  When we can talk with students together, get messy in the process in real time,  I believe we can affect real change, fundamental, practice-changing kind of change.

When Bharti says things emerge over time because as artists we collect and build things in the libraries in our heads over time,  I think of our community of artists in learning:  teachers,  students, and even me taking the time to collect ideas and experiences,  building practice and relationships through and in our experiences.

So I’m going to be there before school, having coffee and dreaming about change with the teacher in our building.  I am going to spend every spare minute, reading a few pages with a student, listening to a story, and sometimes teaching or reading aloud.  I’m learning along with the community.  Trying things out,  getting messy.  Does it seem like a free fall?  Not at all.  We know and trust each other.    So  let’s see what we can do when we give each other the gift of time.

 

 

 

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Always inspired by Two Writing Teachers and the Slice of Life Community.

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