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.

 

#whyiwrite #sol19

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#whyiwrite  #sol19

October 22, 2019

Why I write? 

{shuffles papers; straightens desk; washes out coffee mug; stacks post-its… sighs deeply}

If I were going to write an essay (perhaps I am) on why I write,  I would say that I have to,  it’s a habit I’m building, and I 200% think it makes me a better educator and coach.  But how?   It seems completely magical in some ways, how I wake up at 3 a.m. and write a whole page in my blog fodder journal about what I am desperate to write.  Lately less that 80% of those ideas make into the confines of this blog.  These ideas wither and die in my notebook, not seeing fruition because I’ve lost the rhythm of writing.  Not to worry.  Even as I typed those words, I thought to myself… it will come back.  

It will come back because I’m tired now, but I’m also inspired.  I’m inspired by all I read, all the conversations I have, what I see,  what I try, and what I see others try.  I’m inspired by my partnerships and my trials,  my colossal fails and my almost wins.  I’m inspired by my friends, virtual and right here, who notice when I don’t write.  I’m inspired by… ideas.  There are so many!

When I began…

I formally saw myself as a reading teacher that taught writing.  I never considered writing. When I began blogging, I didn’t consider blogging actually writing.  Instead, I read and read and read.  I wrote in margins, on stickies, and in notes about things I had read, but I didn’t write about what I was thinking.  I held back.  Like many or perhaps all, my young writing was filled with criticism and endless, endless revision until the voice on the page sounded not at all like my voice to me.  I hardly hear those negative voices now in my head.  I write like I hope I inspire others to write… freely.

When I began writing in earnest a few years ago, believing that my blog was writing. Believing myself to be the type of writer who blogs because she wants to discover ideas, discuss ideas, and stretch out ideas until they shine like new pennies and reflect their effervescence far and wide.  It feels amazing to write my ideas down, to push the curser back as I reconsider, to mine my little notebook for a tiny crumb that comes to me as I’m driving or cooking, talking or reading.  

Why do I write?  I would be a fraud if I taught writing instruction to teachers and facilitated writing to young writers if I hadn’t struggled through an idea myself, if I hadn’t looked up to think about the next words that might come after those words waiting on the page.  As I write,  I learn more about what it means to be a writer.  I learn more about the process of writing, the way words string together, the way writing about something can empty your heart and fill it at the same exact moment.

Why do I write?  I think I have come to view writing in the same way I do reading now.  I might be writing at my ‘just-right’ level, but there’s always room for a bigger amount.  There’s always room for a stretch. That’s how I became a better reader, more and more along with thinking and thinking.  Same concept with writing, more and more along with trying, experimenting, pushing, editing, fixing up, and letting go.

Why do I write?  Now I know that, no one is looking at my words and saying… you know, she’s not really a writer.  No one is thinking…what makes her think she can write?  They are thinking as I do when I read someone else’s writing, I never thought of it that way or that’s exactly what I was thinking!  

So I write.  I’m a writer.  Why not?

img_0602I wouldn’t be a blogger without the encouragement of my dear friends, Clare and Tammy, who saw me as a writer long before I could say those words myself.  I write in the shadow of an amazing community of writers that inspire me to ‘better’ every day.  Thank you to the amazing inspiration that is all of the writers at TwoWritingTeachers.

 

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!

Notebook Saturday: Drop In #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. 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. 

Notebook Saturday:  Drop In #sol19

March 23, 2019

She rushes in the book room, paper in hand. Do you have a few minutes? she asks.  I turn from my computer, my head full of other thinking.  I hesitate, only for seconds.  Sure, I say, What’s up?  

She places a carefully constructed sheet on my table.  I scan for a moment.  Oh,  new strategy goals…  She has been very careful.  I wish I remembered her carefully constructed titles for the groupings.  In my mind I was already translating them… word solving, ok.  Two word solving groups.  (Middle word)   Now I’m remembering… Mind Movies,  Dialogue.  I called one Fluency.  Oh yes,  she called it sound like talking.   There’s one cryptic group that I’ve called LL.  Hope she remembers who and what.

Looks like you’ve got it thought out. 

I don’t know how I’m going to fit it all in.  

(Sigh) (This is a talk I can do on the fly)  Let’s talk it out.  Let me get a piece of paper.  Legal pad sheet ripped off the pad.  Stickies.  Pencil.  Let’s go. Ok,  how many groups can you fit in a workshop?  Two? 

I think I can fit three, she says.  Hmmm.  I quickly draw a grid, talking as I go.  Let’s plan for four days and then you can have an extra for things you notice that week or just whip around conferring.  I pause…  Let’s start with your word solvers.  

We begin working through groups talking strategic times, timing, configuration, methods as we go. My paper begins to look like a football play book.  (As if I’ve seen one of those)

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Quickly we work through the groups. Perhaps start the week with Word Solvers.  Maybe this word solving group can be seen by your partner teacher and you can just do table conferences.  

On we go.  Four days a week for the word solvers. She’s been running a shared reading group with them.  I suggest a gradual release. 2 minute teach, 8 minute watch and coach.  Then later in the week, run both groups at the same time, centering herself and going back and forth.

She’s ready for a stretch in technique.

Her Mind Movie group and Dialogue group perhaps two days each.  That might be a good try for Shared Reading.  Interactive Read Aloud, she says.

Mind Movie group?  What level?  Lish?   You could teach into story mountain.  Time line? she asks.   Four squares.   Maybe a little higher level character work.  Iris is the kind of person who…character trait.   

We talked through book club ideas quickly.  Double partnerships, book club talk.

We include a bonus slot for research or teaching into current unit lessons.  I draw a poorly executed trash can fire.  She looks up.  Sometimes fires happen.  You need space for that.  

Then I say something off the cuff in closing. That’s a mantra, she says.  Write it down. 

IMG_3800 (1) Laughing,  I write it down as I say it again.

Off you go.  

 

My apologies to Jennifer Serravallo for my fast edit of a technique I learned from her.  You can read more about this grid planning technique in Teaching Reading in Small Groups.  

Routine #1 #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.

Routine #1 #sol19

March 12, 2019

morning routine #1

Morning Routine #1

“Come on,  Lily.  Outside,” I call to no answer.  Walking down the hall I call again, “Outside!”  Still nothing.  I peak over the top of the couch and a pair of dark brown look up at me.  “Let’s go, right now, outside.”

Reluctant feet hit the floor with two thuds.

I am waiting at the door.

Out we trudge.

Already thinking and stewing about the day ahead, I walk to the edge of the sidewalk and turn the corner.  I hear the sound of feet breaking through the crusty snow.

Crunch. Crunch. Crunch.

My gaze looks beyond the yard to the sun breaking through on the horizon.

For a moment, I think about its beauty.  Where else is there that shade of red mixed with the soft blue of the receding night.  For a moment, I am transfixed.

Then the day begins to encroach.

First the gentle trill of birds. Are there birds returning?  

Then I begin to hear traffic.  Cars moving along a nearby road and

I am shaken back into the swirl of daily cares.

“Come on,  Lily.   I have to get to work.”

Gentle steps crunch through the snow and back onto the walk.  I have already turned but I hear the soft jingle of her jewelry as she follows behind.

This is our routine.