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…

Keep Writing #sol20

Keep Writing #sol20

March 12, 2020

Unexpectedly I was asked to cover for kindergarten class one day last week.  I dropped in and the teacher said, the students have just started writingGreat I thought, I love writing.  

Immediately the cry went up.  What do I writeI  need help!  The young writers were all sitting at their tables with a 3 step How-to page in front of each student.  Peering at the illustrations, the first was a child mixing something.  The second illustration was a oven.  The last illustration was a child frosting or putting sprinkles on the cookie.

Oh, wait!  I said.  Let’s plan out our writing together.  What is this about?  Baking cookies was the unanimous response.  Ok, I thought.  Here we go.   Let’s look at this first picture.  What do you think you do first when you bake cookies?    

Mix the dough! the kindergarten writers respond.

Great! Let’s look at this picture.  (Oven) What’s happening?   I don’t see the cookies. I wait for them to explain. They are quick.  The cookies are in the oven.  I smile.  Oh, I say, bake the cookies.

There’s one more picture.  What happens after you take them out of the oven?  

They look carefully at the picture.  The room is quiet for a minute or two.  Look at the picture. What’s happening?  They look closer.  One of them offers, he’s putting sprinkles on the cookies.  Nods of agreement around the room. The room explodes with talk.

The pencils start moving.  As I notice writers are struggling to get started, I pull a few into a group on the rug in front of the phonics chart.  What did we want to write first?  Mix the cookies, they respond.  Let’s think about M-i-x.  I stretch out the word.  What letter makes the mmm?  As we begin to work through the sounds, they begin to tentatively write, and then help each with the sounds.  I move away letting them keep going.

Other students begin to finish.  I’m done. I’m done. begins to pop up around the room.  Oh.. I say.  You’re not done!  What else could you teach me about?  Do you want to write on the back of this paper or do you want another piece to write your next How-To? 

There we go starting our next phrase,  I move again table to table, talking over their steps.  It’s fun to talk over with them their how-to plans.  One young writer says, I don’t know what to write about.  Hmm… I say,  Did you get up this morning?  Giggles ensue.  Yes! she says.  Ok, what did you do first?  Step by step we talk through telling her mom what she wants to to eat.  Then what?  On she goes telling me about eating breakfast.  I tease her about just leaving it sitting on the table. No!  she say, I clean up my place and then I get ready for school.  

There you go!  You’re all set.  Get writing.  

It goes on like this until the magical hour I didn’t know I was going to have is all up.  I say thank you to those brave writers and head toward the door.  Wait!  they press into me.  Take my writing!  Take my writing!  

I’ll make a copy and bring it right back to you. 

I hold each one carefully.  Read them again and cherish each of them and slip them into my unit book to be shared and shared and shared.

(Un)Solicited Reviews #sol20

(Un)Solicited Reviews #sol20

March 9, 2019

What happens when a second grade class of book reviewers find out that I don’t have the latest book in Jory John and Pete Oswald’s series, The Cool Bean?  They set out to convince a literacy specialist in the best way they can… they write a stack of book reviews.  So here straight from the second grade is the reason that I (you) should run out and buy this book.

This was pretty convincing until I read this line.

Why are you still reading this go and buy this book!!!!

It’s difficult to say what I love most about this situation and why after nearly a month, these reviews are still traveling back and forth in my teacher bag.

Another thing that I like (in) this book is that after they were nice to Little Bean he starts to be kind to other(s). Another reason I think this book is good is that there (they’re) get(t)ing along again… it teaches you that everyone is cool and sometime people are nice and kind.

Straight from my teacher bag into my heart and into my mentor text files.  These second graders don’t know it yet, but they have the makings of some literary essayist.  Quick retell, character traits, lessons learned, they are putting it together.  So is their teacher.

These showed up on my desk silently one day without notice.  Just a sweet little stack of writing gems.  I know you wish you could read them all again and again as well.

Here’s one final picture to tide you over.

For the month of March , I will be participating in the Slice of Life Challenge (#sol20) 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.  This is day 9.

Connection #sol20

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There are actually two types of fungi here: lichen, fungi and algae, and hen-in-the-woods.

Connection #sol20

January 14, 2020

When I chose connect as my one little word, I was thinking about the connections between individuals and grade levels, types of writing and units of study,  I wasn’t thinking about how a book or books can connect so many of those things.  I also wasn’t thinking about books and how they can connect across lessons and ideas either.  Since I started with this lovely photo of a hen-in-the-woods fungus, perhaps I should start closer to the beginning.

As part of another blog team I write with, I chose a year’s worth of books to review.  (My last review, Fungus is Among Us by Joy Keller)  Another writer had recommended this book as it was published in early fall and I preordered it.  I had chosen to review it in January as many grades as starting or leaving nonfiction reading and writing and also fitting in poetry during these winter months.  This book has a lot!  It’s a picture book and also contains loads of facts.  It has an easy story line and also a biography insert.  It has a bibliography and it RHYMES!  Just the perfect mentor text to showcase many ways of writing nonfiction.

This story isn’t actually a book review.  It’s what happened next.  As is my habit, a few weeks before my review date,  I send out an email asking who would like to hear a new book.  I don’t offer much additional information.  Usually I have a few takers and in this round two classrooms of third graders invited me to read.  As I was planning my lesson,  I was thinking about poetry writing and the aspects of good nonfiction writing.  I read through the book several times, enjoy more each time.  Then it occurred to me that I have photos of fungus in my phone…  How many photos of fungus do I have?  I wondered.  Quickly before I visited my first class,  I created a quick album of fungi in my phone, a half-a-dozen pictures or so.  I read the book to a third grade, telling them that I was reviewing it.  Asking them to think like nonfiction readers and writers. What did they learn from this nonfiction teacher?  What might they try in their own writing?  

The class was immediately taken with the fungi.  They had lots of ideas in their pre-reading moments thinking about where they had seen fungi and what they knew.  Surprisingly, many of them had some ideas.  Definitely plenty to think about as we read.  We read this brilliant book noting the author’s craft in the beginning, her incorporating of text features, the parallel structure, the author’s notes. At the end,  I gave the students an opportunity to respond to my initial questions.  Their responses were very enthusiastic.

Planning on reading the book to another third grade later in the week and bolstered by their response,  I went back through my phone and discovered I had nearly twenty five photos of different types of fungi. A little odd, I know.  Putting them into an album I noticed that you can make a slideshow in your phone, so I did.   I returned to my first read aloud class and during their snack showed them the slideshow.   They were thrilled.

In another class,  I was gifted the opportunity to teach a few lessons in the beginning of the third grade nonfiction writing unit.  In the first lesson, the teaching point is that we are all as nonfiction writers essentially teachers.  Instead of the unit’s example of cockroaches,  I used my old interest and new-found knowledge of fungi to organize my oral teaching example.

This fungi things got legs… . The next lesson I taught was about using your flash draft to organize several table of contents ideas to plan for your nonfiction chapter book.  Again,  I wrote quickly about fungi and used that writing to demonstrate several possible ‘table of contents’.

So this little book,  Fungus is Among Us, has been quite helpful.  One book, so many uses.  It’s interesting.

 

 

Time to Reflect #sol19

Screen Shot 2019-12-09 at 4.31.14 PM.pngTime to ReGroup (& Reflect) #sol19

December 10, 2019

We’ve come to the time of the year when it’s time to take stock.  Prepare for our New Year’s resolutions so to speak.  Take some time to consider how far we’ve come from the aspirations of early fall to the reality of early winter.  A new season of school is upon us.

We can no longer attribute difficulties to ‘summer loss’ or ‘adjusting to the school year’, now it’s all on us (collectively).  What are the reflective questions to ask ourselves?

For me, so much about this tenth year in this same school is similar and yet it feels so different.  With a dramatic shift in the personnel around me and the allocation of my time, I find myself carefully considering many things about both my yearly trajectory and my day-to-day practice.  I believe this happens to those of us who work in education quite frequently.  Mostly, it’s a good thing.

It’s a good thing because the less stagnant we become, the fresher we are for those around us.  I have a lot of experience in literacy and elementary school, but I work best when I approach each new challenge with fresh ideas and a full toolkit.  Success is more often the outcome when I listen, I observe, I carefully consider, I remain true to my overall philosophies of learning, and then, only then, I offer suggestions.

We have a child study team at our school, similar to many other RtI practicing schools.  I am well known for taking copious notes and always offering up some out-of-the box ideas along with the standard fare.  Thinking about something we haven’t tried keeps us focusing on the uniqueness of each student, each classroom, and each situation that comes our way.

One challenge that remains stubbornly consistent over the last years is spelling.  Spelling?!?  Not word-solving in reading to any extent, but spelling.  If I am being honest, I used to think, spelling?  That’s what spell-check is for.  It will work itself out with technology and practice.  Through happenstance, I decided last week to take spelling head-on.  What can we consistently do to improve the spelling of individual students and our students overall?  Is this perception or reality?  How is this global issue related to others that seem to be perennials in the landscape of our school lives?

What do we do when we try to solve a problem?  We get right in there.  But for some reason (I think I know why),  I decided this time, this time it wasn’t going to be about me swooping in and solving a problem by offering a solution to a teacher and most especially, a student.  This time was going to be about me listening, reflecting, creating agency in the student herself.  So instead of asking, what’s up with this?  I asked,  what are you already doing well?  Hey, kiddo,  spelling (insert difficulty here) is a big elephant of a thing.  What do you think you are doing ok?  How do you know?  Then, and only then, did I ask, what do you think you might work on right now? 

Here’s what it looked like on paper.

IMG_5455It isn’t magical.  It isn’t an amazing piece of insight.  Honestly, it might not work.  The look on the student’s face as she created this alongside me was everything.  I hope it will be a game-changer, but I’m at peace if it isn’t.  There will be something else to try, to tweak, to discuss.  What all of this is about is moving forward, giving something a go, building agency and mindset and all those things that will stay with a learner long after she’s left me behind.

Here they are, her ideas in my handwriting.  As we move forward, I hope she will see it as her success as well.

 

img_0602 I write in the company of the writing community created by Two Writing Teachers.  I thank them and all my fellow writers for building agency in me and helping me feel my own success.

The Truth about Teaching #sol19

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The Truth about Teaching #sol19

October 29, 2019

This morning, I had a plan, a plan to join some third graders as they began to explore persuasive writing and speeches.  A wonderful new book on my desk, I began to reread to plan out my stop and talks.  It occurred to me after I had read about ten pages that this particular book wasn’t really going to work.  #hatewhenthathappens   All my other persuasive text for the most part were loaned out.  What to do? 

I dug out another book.  Screen Shot 2019-10-29 at 1.52.47 PM

Truthfully,  I’ve been thinking about a way to use it.

I arrive at the class with a sharpie, my big notebook, some index cards, an anchor chart and this book.  Ok, kiddos, I say.  You were writing opinions yesterday right?  (mediocre answers) . So today,  let’s see how this author tells us his opinion.  

The book is amusing, full of side comments by the bears.  5 pages in I ask,  what kind of book does this seem like to you?  The kids look at me incredulously. Perhaps they think their thinking isn’t quite right.  Finally a brave students says, it seems like informationalYep, I said, the author is telling us a lot of facts about bearsWonder why?  Let’s see if we can figure it out.   We finish the story and I ask again, what was the author hoping we would do?  Again, hesitantly they say,  he wanted us to know about bears and teach other people.  Why? I asked.   Silence… then… he wanted us to help the bears.  Why?  So they would have food and some place to live.

Then I ask them, is there something you could teach me about that would make me care more about it?  Some students stayed on the bears.  But two stole my heart.

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So Grandpas don’t get embarrassed.  

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People should close their trash cans so plastic doesn’t go into the water and turtles can be safe. 

They may need finesse, but I’d say these people know how to have an opinion.

As I circle the room, one student is writing facts down about guinea pigs.  Hmm, I say, are you thinking people should own guinea pigs?  In my old school, I had a guinea pig.  You did?!?!  the table group erupts.  We should have a class pet!

We sat down as a group to have a chat about the opinion we should have a class pet.  First they want to discuss what kind of pet. Rattlesnake, monkey, dog, cat, guinea pig. They think about the pros. We can pet it when we are sad.  It will be something to talk to.  It will make kids want to come to school more.   And then,  one student says, there are reasons why we shouldn’t have a pet.  Sure, I say.  What?  We have to clean up after them.  People are allergic.  Counterargument.  Not taught, just caught. Messy, all over the place, student led learning.  Do you think we can really get a pet? they ask.

 

Paint Chip Poetry #playingwithpoetrynpm

A paint chip poem inspired by Elisabeth Ellington who was inspired by an I am exercise in Susan Goldsmith Woodbridge’s book, Poemcrazy, Freeing Your Life with Words.

Paint chips are amazing. Go on over to the hardware store and load up. I want a second set right now. Devoid of verbs, paint chip names abound with adjectives and nouns. To complete this exercise like the mentor, I transposed one title and added articles, prepositions and the sentence stems from the exercise. This was fun.

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Poemcrazy exercise

Just pile on words. Don’t think. See images. Daydream with words. Wander. Go crazy defining yourself…

 

 

 

 

What I Am

I am seasoned salt,

the pencil sketch of early September.

The clear vista of my heart

is a stargazer on a September morning.

I am every growing season

keeping promises of a new day on

a distant shore.

I don’t know soft secrets or solemn silence.

I’m a blazing bonfire in the

Chicago fog,

a summer dragonfly at a lawn party.

I want to be a rolling pebble,

A sand pearl, a hush in beach grass.

Nail Polish Name Poetry #playingwithpoetrynpm

Playing with poetry further, I took Elisabeth Ellington’s nail polish name poem as a mentor. I have a box of nail polish, apparently ripe with racy innuendo. This wouldn’t be an elementary school project. Here it is. Each line of poetry is a nail polish name in my collection.

Nail Polish Poetry #playingwithpoetrynpm

April 7, 2019

bahama mama

aruba blue

haute in the heat

berry naughty

bikini so teeny

The girls are out

Breaking curfew!

wicked wild (nude)

no more film

e-nuf is e-nuf!

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.

Monday Bookshelf: Fairy Tale(ish) Edition #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:  Fairy Tale(ish) Edition #sol19

March 11, 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.

Screen Shot 2019-03-10 at 4.31.28 PM.pngStack 2:  Fairy Tale, Folk Tale, Fable, Traditional Tale… Any Book with Strong Archetypes and a Lesson

Being a little tired of most fairy tales where the female character is at the whim of the male power character,  I branch out to other books that have a traditional tale feel without actually being one.  All except The Three Little Pigs, which could be either gender and seem to work with every demonstration lesson ever.  (Don’t believe me.  It’s Tammy Mulligan’s theory.  Give it a try)  For that story,  you don’t need a book.  Every single person knows what happens.  Here is a collection of books with a strong lesson, strong characters, and character change. 

 

Screen Shot 2019-03-10 at 3.28.17 PMA Camel in the Sun inspired by a retelling of a traditional Muslim hadith, or account of the words or actions of the Prophet,  this is the story of a camel whose owner only realizes his selfish ways when the Prophet appears and tends to the camel humanely.

 
Screen Shot 2019-03-10 at 3.27.05 PMThe Wolf, The Duck, and the Mouse   This is a crazy tale where the victims change the tables on the villain.  Who is the bad guy in this story?  Perfect for the student who loves a twist.

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Little Tree  The little tree stubbornly refuses to let go and faces the consequences.  There is a strong message here about change.   Very simple text and beautiful illustrations.

 

Screen Shot 2019-03-10 at 3.24.39 PMThe Uncorker of Ocean Bottles   I’m not sure what kept me from this book until now.  The Uncorker has the solitary job of retrieving bottles from the ocean and delivering them to the appropriate persons until one day…

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Horrible Bear   As in many of Ame Dyckman’s books,  the obvious bad guy just isn’t.  Misjudged,  the bear isn’t the one with the lesson to learn  See also  Wolfie the Bunny and Misunderstood Shark

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Chopsticks  I kind of want to include an AKR book into every category I make.  They can be used for so many.  Chopsticks think they can only work together, until… See also Spoon and Exclamation Mark.

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Bloom  is a fairy tale with an anti-hero.  She’s the solution that no one wants.  She doesn’t have to be the one to save the day,  she can give her powers away. Screen Shot 2019-03-10 at 3.20.31 PM

 

 

 

 

Also in the Stack:    Screen Shot 2019-03-10 at 3.58.55 PMThe Princess and the Pit Stop a delightful mashup of many tales where the heroine definitely makes things happen  Screen Shot 2019-03-10 at 3.59.55 PM

After the Fall    a familiar tale with a much more satisfying ending

 

 

and  Screen Shot 2019-03-10 at 4.01.26 PM.pngWe Don’t Eat our Classmates

I have never seen this problem in a classroom and yet, I think we can all relate