Monday, May 15, 2017

#SOL17 Advice from Walt

On Saturday, I took part in a Writing Marathon at Walt Whitman's Birthplace as part of the Long Island Writing Project's Saturday Series of workshops. (That's Walt looking rather proudly over my shoulder.) I've been a Long Islander all my life and shopped numerous times at the Walt Whitman Mall but never visited his birthplace before. The weather was gray, chilly and rainy, but May meant there was still greenery everywhere as I explored the house where Walt Whitman lived until he was four years old. 

During one part of the Writing Marathon, I came upon the opening to Leaves of Grass, entitled "This Is What You Shall Do":

"Love the earth and sun and the animals,
Despise riches, give alms to everyone who asks, 
Stand up for the stupid and crazy,
Devote your income and labor to others,
Hate tyrants, argue not concerning God,
Have patience and indulgence toward the people
Take off your hat to nothing known or unknown,
Or to any man or number of men,
Go freely with the powerful uneducated persons,
And with the young and with the mothers of families,
Read these leaves in the open air,
Every season of every year of your life,
Reexamine all you have been told,
At school or church or in any book,
Dismiss whatever insults your own soul,
And your very flesh shall be a great poem."

 How very timeless! Published in 1855, it's amazing how true every word is, still, in 2017. My favorite line- "Read these leaves in the open air, Every season of every year of your life." 

I'm grateful to be part of the Long Island Writing Project, which is so often nourishment for my professional teaching soul, taking me to places in my own backyard that I've yet to discover. 

Sunday, May 14, 2017

#DigiLitSunday Summer Slide

As a teacher, what do I want most for my students? My fondest wish is that my students become caring, passionate, engaged, educated citizens who are curious, think critically and seek out knowledge. Is that really asking too much? Of course, this is what I aspire to be, too- the kind of person who continues learning, growing, and uses that knowledge to make the world at least a little bit better. 

The whole issue of "summer slide" is, for me, like an iceberg. There is so much below the surface that we need to think about. If students stop learning- stop reading, writing, and thinking- when not in school, what are we really teaching? Are we teaching for compliance? Are we teaching students to fill out reading logs but despise reading, to just wait for that period of time when reading can, in their opinion, blissfully stop? Isn't our mission- all year long- to inspire students to be learners, thinkers, and yes- readers and writers? 

Each year, I get a list of the reading levels my new students were in June when they were second graders. Each September, many students have dropped a level or two or three. Sometimes more. Some didn't read all summer long. They didn't write either. And this makes me so sad because chances are, these kids don't see themselves as readers and writers, as people who read and write because it enriches their lives. They don't see these activities as pleasurable or part of their identity. 

This doesn't sit well with me.

Last year, we tried something to hook our students into reading. I created summer digital newsletters, using Smore. We had a padlet where each week, students and staff members could share what they were reading and this was included in the newsletter. The newsletter featured videos of teachers and staff members reading a summer themed book as a way to give kids some more read aloud time and feel a connection to the school during the summer. The newsletters also included some summer slide infographics and events at the local library. 

Another thing we tried was 2 summer book exchanges- each hosted at the local library. We had a photo booth and bookmarks for kids to color and everyone who came got to choose new books to read. Kids even made video book reviews in front of a green screen. 

This was our first time trying something like this, so of course there are ways to improve upon what we began. One thing I'd like to try is asking parents to sign up for the digital newsletter ahead of time, to explain more about summer slide and have them receive it in their email box instead of just finding it on Facebook or Twitter. I'd also like to create a hashtag for our summer learning, so students and staff members could share what we are learning throughout the summer. As part of the Two Writing Teachers blog series, Keeping the Learning Going Throughout the Summer, I shared an idea to use a bingo board as incentive for summer writing. Writing could also be shared via padlet during the summer, just like reading. 

Digital tools make it easier than ever to keep a learning community connected. Summer can be an exciting way to see students try independent writing projects and have them share their learning across different media. Readers and writers can share and be part of a community of learners. Do we take advantage of these ways to keep our students connected? And, most importantly, are we creating communities of learners who are energized by what they read, write and share and are eager to do it through all seasons? If not, we have more to think about than just the summer slide. 

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The Writing Strategies Book Study: Goal 6- Elaboration

My four year old daughter knows how to ELABORATE. She tells me detailed stories of her school day, her make believe doll stories, and even retells stories I've told her about when I was younger. She includes many details and even interesting language! But elaborating in writing isn't something that comes easily for many of my third grade students. 

I am taking part in a collaborative book study of Jennifer Serravallo's The Writing Strategies Book: Your Everything Guide to Developing Skilled Writers, organized by Kelly Malloy.  The Writing Strategies Book is divided into goals and each week, another educator blogger is sharing about that goal. You can find previous ones here:

Goal 1 (Composing with Pictures)
Goal 2 (Engagement)
Goal 3 (Generating and Collecting Ideas)
Goal 4  (Focus/Meaning)
Goal 5 (Organization and Structure)

The goal I am sharing this week is Goal 6- Elaboration. Jen says, "Elaboration is the specific information a writer uses to develop her topic. Elaboration includes but is not limited to details, facts, anecdotes, dialogue, inner thinking, setting description, character description, statistics, reasons, information, and direct quotations from interview subjects (208)." 

Jen made a point I thought was so true- she said, "What's sometimes challenging for students is that they assume that their reader knows everything they know. Writers then neglect to include enough information so that the reader can also visualize what the writer is visualizing (209)." This makes so much sense when I think of many of my student writers who do not provide details to help the reader understand what is happening. 23 strategies are listed for this! I will share 3 of my favorites. 

6.5 "Nudge" Paper 

This strategy says, "When you feel like a part of your draft needs work, but you're cautious about making changes right on the page, take a strip of scrap paper. Try out your idea on that page. Consider if you want to apply them to your entry or draft (216). 

I think this is a low-stress way to push students to try out another approach to a lead, and ending, or any part in the middle! I also like that the writer gets to decide if the change works for him or not. 

6.10- Prove It 

This strategy asks students to think of their idea or claim and make a list of reasons to support their point. This is perfect for my current unit of study, persuasive speeches! Students write their opinion and list the reasons why that opinion is true. Under each reason, facts or details are listed to support the reason. Once again, the charts and visuals are so helpful here!  Boxes and bullets are used to make the point very clear. 

6.25- Cracking Open Verbs

"Went" and "Go" are often the culprits- the crime? Dull verbs. Jen explains that writers try to "precisely describe"  how a person does something. Students can think about the emotions and feelings behind the actions of a character and replace dull and boring verbs with more "invigorating" ones!

Oops, she did it again! Jennifer Serravallo has once again created a user-friendly, amazingly helpful resource for teachers who want to help their students grow as writers....just like she did for our readers with The Reading Strategies Book. Thank you, Jen, for a book that will be useful for years to come and thank you, Kelly, for coordinating this book study! 

Adventures in Dog Sitting #SOL17

We are absolutely, positively, not getting a dog. So don't even think it.

We spent the weekend dog sitting my brother-in-law's chow chow, Rylee. My children, Alex and Megan, were beyond excited to be dog sitters, since they beg me quite often to get a dog. My son even wrote a letter to the Easter Bunny, hidden in a plastic egg, asking for a dog. It's enough to break your heart and break down your resolve to NOT get a dog.....well almost enough. Not quite enough. Because we cannot get a dog. 

A dog is a big responsibility and a big expense. A dog needs time and attention- both of which I am short on. It's hard enough to give my children the attention they deserve- how will I have anything left over for a dog? So no, no dog.

But there have been moments where I felt myself soften ever the slightest. When Megan came out of the shower and we opened the bathroom door to find Rylee waiting outside, looking for us.....well that was kind of cute. The way she follows me when I walk from room to room....rather sweet. Her fur is so soft and she has the cutest triangle ears. But no. No dog. 

When I was younger, I begged my parents for a dog. I envisioned a little dog with a red bow on his head, under my Christmas tree. I yearned for a dog. But now, all these years later, I see why my parents never relented. A dog is a big responsibility, a lot of time, a lot of money, and a lot of work. 

We are absolutely, positively not getting a dog.....I think. 

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

On the Bench #SOL17

The calendar still read "April", but Saturday was a sneak peek into summer. The air was warm as the sun beat down on the three of us as we arrived at the "sandy park"- the one with sand on the ground by the playground equipment. My son, Alex, inching closer to seven and my daughter, Megan, newly four, took off their sandals and ran to play. 

It occurred to me, for the first time ever, that I could watch them from the bench. They could easily navigate this playground and I didn't need to be right next to them. Alex has been independent for a while, but I've been trailing Megan up till now. I took a seat on the bench and watched them play.

Then it happened again, on Sunday. Megan was able to play in the basement, on her own, with me upstairs in the kitchen. Alex was on the computer- also fine without me right near him. I was able to cook and prepare some food for the week ahead while everyone was happily occupied. Astounding. 

For so long, I needed to sit on the floor right next to them, or hold hands as stairs were climbed on the playground. I was urgently needed. And like everything in life, that comes with pros and cons. Being urgently needed means you are at the center of your child's life but it leaves you out of your own life a bit. Now that my children can do more for themselves and by themselves, they need me less urgently and I've rediscovered at least part of the day that can be for me. 

This weekend, that extra time meant I reorganized a tupperware shelf that had become a sea of mismatched lids and old, unfitting bottoms. I made the shelf neater and organized, tossing what no longer was useful. When I need a container, I will save time and frustration. Win! 

I'm really okay with being on the bench. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Reality Bites #SOL17

I think living means you need to purposefully ignore a lot of painful realities. As we go through our every days, doing such mundane tasks as grocery list-making and paying bills and brushing our teeth, we need to actively ignore the fact that we will one day die and all the people we love most will too. (Cheerful thought to start a Tuesday, no?) The whens and hows are a mystery and so we push these dreadful truths aside and live like we have forever, and all the ones we love have forever too.

At times, it's harder to deny these truths. A little girl I know, younger than my own little girl, is battling cancer. Why does a three year old get cancer and how does any of that fit into the bigger picture of life and what it all means? Surgeries, chemo, and dreadful side effects. An entire family's blue sky existence now muddled with stormy clouds and no break in sight. 

People say when this happens, be grateful for your children and their health. But this just doesn't sit right with me. Why do I get to have children who can skip in the sunshine and play baseball while another little girl lies motionless for weeks in a hospital bed? And if that can happen to her in an instant, who's to say that it can't happen to me or my family in an instant too? How can you be grateful for your happiness knowing another is in exquisite pain? 

More than ever, I see the yin and yang of life- the light and the dark. A friend's marriage over before it began. A colleague's treasured mother passing away. A little girl who posed with the Easter bunny at the beginning of March now fighting an aggressive cancer. A fire fighter father who lives on Long Island killed on the job. A little boy shot to death walking onto a school playground. Sadness everywhere.

Yet light, too. On Sunday, I took my daughter Megan to our Mommy and Me yoga class. The sky was crayon blue and Megan wore lavender sunglasses in the shape of a heart, with pearls around the edges. She looked like a movie star and chattered on happily, as we held hands, walking to the studio. Her small hand, so cozy in mine. Sunshine. 

So, as much as I can, I push the fear and the painful realities aside, and focus on the here and now and all the mundane tasks that need to get done. I work to do good while I can and show my love for the people I care about. I try to be one of the helpers Mr. Roger's mother talked about when she told him to "look for the helpers" when bad things happen. I just wish bad things could stop happening. 

Monday, April 17, 2017

On a Roll.... #SOL17

Last week, I was hungry and grouchy and negative and did I already say hungry? It was "Day 1" of my new eating plan and I was resenting it, big time. Your comments were so uplifting and thank you if you commented! And the next day was a little easier, and the next easier...and now it's been 8 days on this new program. I'm over 3 pounds thinner, which is a nice start, but the best part is I feel calmer- more level. I feel prepared. I've found recipes that don't make me feel like I'm suffering. Suddenly all the foods I was longing for don't seem as important as they did last week. 

Case in point- Easter Sunday. Before my Grandmother passed away, every year she would make a ricotta pie on Easter. It was my favorite. I would never turn it down, no matter what diet I was currently following. It was special- an indulgence I always allowed myself. This year, with my Grandma gone, there was nothing specific I felt I MUST HAVE, so before-hand I decided I would do my best to stick to my plan. I made a delicious and colorful fruit salad to bring to my in-laws for dessert and I decided that would be all I had in that department. Nary a chocolate bunny passed through these lips! I did partake in one glass of sangria punch at my sister's house- it was divine. 

Food, weight, dieting- these are "heavy" issues for me (haha) and while there are no simple solutions, at the moment, I'm feeling really proud that I am working on this and giving it my all. While there are still rolls to contend with, and though I may long for a roll (especially a warm one with a pat of butter), I'm on a roll and making positive changes. Drum roll please! :)

Monday, April 10, 2017

Hungry #SOL17

I'd like to write about something else, but I am hungry. Today was the first day of what I am not supposed to call a "diet" but, instead, a lifestyle change. The thing is, I don't want to change my lifestyle- I just want to be thinner while doing exactly what I've been doing. Apparently, that plan isn't going to work. I will have to put forth far greater effort, and eat much less of the food I love, to see pounds drop away. 

I am a hard worker. I am used to putting forth great effort...but with things that make me feel successful or tasks that seem important- like helping others. Why does my own health and fitness not seem important to me? Or is it that the "comforting" foods help me accomplish all the other work I take on? Is there some part of me that feels like being thin would be tempting fate too much and would result in some tragedy?

The day I finished our Slice of Life Story Challenge for March, I felt so proud of that accomplishment. A very good friend of mine, who has lost over 100 pounds and changed her life, questioned me when I asked how she stayed so dedicated. "You just blogged for 31 days. It's what you prioritize." That kind of stayed with me, annoyingly so. Why didn't I prioritize losing weight? If I put forth the same dedication that I do to other aspects of my life, would I be successful?

So here I am. Day 1 down. So many days more to go. A lot of weight to lose and a lot of work to do. When I took graduate credits towards my Masters +75, I knew it would take a long time and I took it class by class. Why am I so impatient with weight- want it all gone tomorrow! Why don't I embrace the journey as I do in nearly everything else I do? 

I hate being hungry and I hate being negative, and tonight, I'm feeling both. 

Friday, March 31, 2017

Day 31 The Treasure Chest Closes #SOL17

On the first day of the March SOLSC, I wrote about this challenge being like a treasure chest. On March 1, the chest opened and each Slice became riches gingerly placed inside the box. Today, the last treasure is placed inside the box and another chapter closes. 

Ferris Bueller wryly said, "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." March is my chance to stop and look around- to slow down and notice, to wonder, to reflect, to question, to celebrate, to mourn, to feel. Writing every single day is not easy- in a month where report cards were due, and my daughter turned 4, and I attended professional conferences, and so on and so on. All the more reason to pause this month- to breathe in life, and exhale here, with all of you. 

I have been touched by your stories, your treasures, too. Reading the many Slices that were shared this month expanded my world view, my compassion, my conviction that we all have a story to tell. Writing by myself would not be the same as writing alongside other educators who believe in the power of words to light the way. 

As part of the Two Writing Teachers co-author team, I'm privy to the work and planning it takes to make such a challenge happen. I'm grateful to all the generous Welcome Wagon volunteers who care about the challenge and believe that new Slicers deserve an audience. I'm grateful to my co-authors who put in so much time and energy organizing information, soliciting prizes, running challenges, and finding inspiration to share with the community.

I'm also grateful to Stacey Shubitz, one of the founders of the Two Writing Teachers and our Chief of Operations and Lead Writer. It was Stacey's vision of a community of educators, who believe in writing, that has led us to this place today. Hundreds of educators and students writing every single day in the month of March, supporting each other, and doing it all to live the writerly life in the hopes that our students will do that, too. Stacey puts in an incredible amount of time and energy behind the scenes to keep all the moving parts of the challenge working correctly! Her vision, dedication, and inspiration have changed lives- most certainly mine. 

Today, this treasure chest closes. It holds this moment in time- March 2017, when I was 37 years old, a wife, a 3rd grade teacher, mom to a 6 year old and a 3 year old turned 4. Like Ferris says, life moves fast. I will never again have this month back to live again, but I can read all about it for years to come, revisiting these Slices, remembering what 4 looked and felt like, breathing in the way my son was at 6, reliving, just a bit, the days of my life. Treasures. 

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Day 30 When Bad News Isn't Yours #SOL17

On this day before the last day of the challenge, I wish I could write something different. I wish this story wasn't weighing on my heart, but it is. It's not my story to tell, but there is nothing else for me to say today. 

When the news is bad,
and it's not your own,
how do you act?
The sun is shining warm sunny rays
and the sky is that beautiful blue
you've been missing
but a friend's world is collapsing
or torn apart 
Your world is not.
Your children, rosy and healthy
do their normal things:
ride bikes, and glide on scooters,
dig in the dirt,
have a full-blown sock war,
with socks strewn all over, 
laughing and then crying.
The same.
Alls well.
But the news you heard
is that all is not well
for someone you know.
And you are sad for them
and scared and worried
and guilty and anxious
and angry that life can turn
in a split second
robbing happiness 
from where it rightfully should perch.
When the news is bad
and it's not your own
the sky should not be blue
the sun should not be so sunny.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Day 29 Ripples of Kindness #SOL17

This story caught my attention as I watched in on Facebook: (Posted on March 11th, 2016- pinned post.) 

Earlier this month, I attended a Long Island Writing Project workshop at the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County. The Holocaust is such a painful topic: I'm embarrassed to say I rarely let my mind think about it because I find it so upsetting. As a parent, I find it even harder to think about what so many families endured and how so many lives were ripped apart. It's inconceivable to me that such evil exists, yet we know it does.

This story, though, makes me think of a mother's influence. The lady speaking in the video describes how her mother packed chocolate for her, knowing there would be awful times ahead and the chocolate might somehow make things less horrific. The mother very kindly asks her daughter if she can give her chocolate to the lady going into labor, knowing the lady might not make it. The lady giving birth does make it- and so does her baby- who is described as a "feeble little thing" who never once cries...until the concentration camp is liberated. At 6 months, the baby cries for the first time and is "born again." There is an amazing twist that comes near the end of the it to see!

My takeaways from this video: Ripples of kindness can change the course of a life, or lives. Sometimes it is years before we see the result of a kind act and many times we will never know how what we did impacted someone. Teachers know this best of all. We are gardeners, planting seeds, toiling, believing but sometimes never getting to see the blooming. Sometimes the blooming comes years after the planting. 

I think of all my teachers and mentors- the kindest, truest people who planted seeds of confidence, integrity, passion, purpose, service, hope, and love. I think of myself as a tapestry of their influences- the best of me comes from the best of them. And I plant seeds of confidence, integrity, passion, purpose, service, hope and love in the young lives I encounter, hoping one day I might be one piece of their story, one stitch in the tapestry of their life, the best of me now a part of them. 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Day 28 Know Thy Self #SOL17

When I was younger, I loved taking quizzes in magazines like YM or Teen. I would circle the answers, then add up my score, or count how many A's and B's and C's I selected. Next, I would find the category that fit my score and read the description, nodding in agreement or taking the quiz again to get a better result!

I was reminded of this because I've taken two personality quizzes this week. One was shared on Facebook by Michelle Haseltine: What Is Your Teaching Spirit Animal? I got the Fennec Fox:"Well aren't you just a fluffy-eared angel! Students and staff alike are drawn to your sweet nature and willingness to listen (although some people may abuse these qualities). Also, you probably have the cutest classroom ever." (If "cutest" is defined by lots of piles of papers- mine's the cutest! Ha.)

The other quiz, The Color Code Personality Test, was shared by my friend Nicolette James. It was shown to her at one of the #CELI17 workshops she attended over the weekend. You can take the quiz here. This one asked a lot of questions about how you were as a child. My results indicated my color code is "blue." Blues are "motivated by intimacy. They seek to genuinely connect with others and need to be understood and appreciated. Everything they do is quality-based...They love to serve and give of themselves freely in order to nurture others' lives." That sounds about right! (Remember that song "I'm Blue...daba dee daba da"...guess I really am blue!)

I'm not so sure about the Fennec Fox, although I do try to be sweet and listen. I think blue was an accurate depiction of who I am. Do you every take personality quizzes? Try the Teaching Spirit Animal and Color Code tests too and let me know about your results! 

Monday, March 27, 2017

Day 27 So You Want to Be My Next 3rd Grade Read Aloud? #SOL17

Okay, Books. The One and Only Ivan received the final rose, wore the crown, had the was our slam dunk, home run read aloud. It will leave a lasting impression on my students, as it has left on me. 

But now it's your turn. We are looking for our next, best chapter book read aloud. Are YOU the one who will cause my students to beg, "Just one more chapter!" Will YOU be the book that makes them think more than they ever have, feel more, be inspired more? 

Here are some of our contestants for the next read aloud:

The Wild Robot 

The Terrible Two 

Out of My Mind

Charlotte's Web

What books would YOU add to my list of contenders? We just finished a fantasy, so I was thinking another genre might be important to read, but I LOVED The Wild Robot and I worry if I don't read Charlotte's Web, my students might never experience it. 

I am looking for our next chapter book read aloud and would love your ideas! 

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Day 26 First-Rate Teachers #SOL17

Tonight, while surfing on Twitter, I stumbled upon this article from 2004, written by Donald Graves. Entitled, "What I've Learned From Teachers of Writing", it's a fascinating piece. I particularly was interested in the section where Graves details what he believes first-rate teachers do:

"They are highly literate. Good teachers are voracious readers who read for personal and professional enjoyment. They write for themselves, their students, and for broader audiences through publication." (Donald Graves)

So many of us here in the Two Writing Teachers community live this each day. We are also members of the Nerdy Book Club and read widely for ourselves and to be able to recommend books to students. We listen to podcasts about books and writing and send each other Voxer messages about these very ideas. All this month, here we are, living the writerly life, often reflecting on our teaching and publishing our work to a wider audience of educators. We read each other's posts, comment, and are often inspired to try a genre or craft move that another teacher blogger used. 

Donald Graves thinks we are first-rate, and who am I to argue with the late, great Don Graves? Here's to all of us, who are highly literate in the hopes that our students will join us and be highly literate, too. 

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Day 25 #CELI17 #SOL17

Today I had the chance to participate in the Connected Educators Long Island Summit (#CELI17), sponsored in my district, Farmingdale. It was an honor to be asked to be part of the panel that was the opening conversation for the day. The panel included education leaders (Superintendent and Principal), teachers, and students! The students were middle schoolers who spoke articulately and with conviction about how schools should look and feel. Their driving message was "Let students follow their passions." 

At the end of the Summit, this video was shared:

The difference between the adult answers and the kid answers was startling and revealing. Why do we go to our flaws first? The kids in the video thought of ways to improve upon their already fabulous selves. The adults thought of all the ways their self needed to change. What if we saw ourselves through a lens of possibility and positivity? How might we be able to create a better life if that is the lens we use?

Thoughts are still percolating, but I am grateful to have been part of a day of learning, innovation and inspiration. 

Friday, March 24, 2017

Day 24 An Anchor of Hope #SOL17

"Your spark can become a flame and change everything."
-E.D. Nixon

"Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does."
-William James

The other day, a colleague who works with some of my students, providing reading support, relayed a story. She said my students told her, "Mrs. Sokolowski has that book. She has so many books. She really, really loves to read." 

The story was a sunbeam piercing through the storm clouds of doubt, rolling through my mind about all the ways I am getting it wrong in the classroom.   

I could make an extensive list of all the things I need to change and fix. But, perhaps, the one thing I am getting right is my students believe me to be a person who loves reading. Of course, they are right- I am a person who loves reading. I hug the book when I finish reading it, and sigh the sigh of a person who has just experienced something exquisitely beautiful. My throat catches as I read the last pages of The One and Only Ivan. I fill our classroom with books and magazines and poems. I post the book I am reading outside the door. I've told them that I believe reading makes you a better person and all the reasons I know that to be true. I've filled our blogging prize basket (for the kids who have earned badges during the Classroom SOLSC) with different books and literacy items. When we visit the school library, I always browse the stacks and borrow books. They watch me. 

In teaching, there's the what, and the how, and the why. Sometimes, I think I need to get better at the what and the how- the technical aspects, the small group lessons, the specific strategies to teach a reader, the ways to utilize the reader's notebook effectively, the organization of conferring notes. But, the thing I've got down is the WHY- the reason to learn the strategies in the first place, what makes it all worthwhile- why we do this thing called "reading". 

 In a sea of doubt, with an ever-growing mental list of the the areas where I need to improve, my students know that I am a reader and I love to read- an anchor in that sea, grounding me with hope that I am doing more good than I know. 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Day 23 How Do I Make Them Care? #SOL17

How do I make them care?
Pencils strewn on the floor
Cast off, ignored, then swept away.
No pencil to write with, they tell me.
How do I make them care?

How do I make them care?
Notebooks home once again
Unprepared for the day's work.
A shrug when asked why.
How do I make them care?

How do I make them care?
Failing grades on math quizzes
Week after week after week
Practice your math facts, I ask
13 out of 25 didn't.
How do I make them care?

How do I make them care?
Talking, laughing, ignoring
the teacher trying to teach
Funny chats, lectures, 
good choice tickets given
Still... teaching interrupted.
How do I make them care?

How do I make them care?
Name-calling, fighting,
squabbles to settle all day long.
So many lessons on being empathetic
Yet they can't see the other's perspective.
How do I make them care?

I have really tried to get away from giving student's rewards and consequences, points and prizes. I want my students to pick up a pencil on the floor because it's their classroom and they care about our supplies, not because they will get a Dojo dollar for it. But....I can't seem to get many of them to do the right thing for the right thing's sake- not because a reward is strapped to it. And I'm feeling frustrated. I don't want them to feel badly about their grades, but maybe I want them to have more pride in themselves and their work and try a little harder, or a lot harder. When you get 3 out of 20 right on a multiplication quiz one week, wouldn't you try to do better the following week and put in more effort? 

How do you build an intrinsic desire to work hard and learn? How do I make my students care more about being their best and our classroom community? Tonight, I'm out of ideas. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Day 22 The One and Only Ivan #SOL17

This is my third year in third grade, and my third time reading aloud The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. I read it once before by myself, which means I've read this gorgeous book four times in all. You would think my voice wouldn't catch anymore on the last line, but today, as I read the last page aloud, I felt the tears threatening and had to stop, breathe, and then push myself to say the words. I didn't want to ruin the very end of the book by blubbering, but it just gets me every time. 

Yesterday, I asked my students to write the formulaic "I am" poem as if they were one of the characters in Ivan. Their writing showed how they understood the characters deeply. One of my students, who absolutely struggles mightily with reading and writing, was captivated by the story. I had him dictate the poem to me and I was touched by how much he was able to express and how much he understood. It's the power of an exquisite book, being read aloud by someone deeply in love with the story. 

Ivan, Ruby, Stella, Julia, George, Mac...these characters feel like friends to me now. While a fantasy, themes of home, friendship, power, equity, and "becoming what you might have been" are universal struggles. 

There are some books that grab you and don't let go, and for me, The One and Only Ivan is that story. Till next year, Ivan. 

(Below are tweets exchanged today with the one and only Katherine Applegate- not only brilliant, but generous to respond to school children and their teacher.)

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Day 21 Back to the Pirate Ship #SOL17

Friday was not a great teaching day. It was one of those days where you shut your classroom door with a bag full of work and a heart full of worry. How do you shift the energy from negative to positive? How do you help students care more about each other, their learning, our classroom? 

On Sunday night, I turned back to a book that made a deep impact on me as a teacher. Paul Solarz's Learn Like a Pirate is about creating a student-centered, student-run classroom. I need to reread it, cover to cover, but only had time to flip through it. That was enough to help me come up with some new ideas for Monday.

On Monday, I added 3 new jobs to our list: Morning Meeting Leader, Afternoon Meeting Leader and Maintenance Director. We've been having a Morning Meeting all year, but I've facilitated it- called students to the carpet, started the greetings, called on the quote person to share, and facilitated calling on students who've signed up to share. It dawned on me that the students could really do all of that, and perhaps offering more leadership and ownership would help. I also thought it might be interesting for students to see how hard it is to get the others to listen! 

The next changes were to add an Afternoon Meeting. Dismissal has been feeling chaotic and stressful instead of a calm review of our day. At the Afternoon Meeting, we talked about celebrations from the day and then goals for tomorrow. I selected one goal for us to work on- saying hello and goodbye to each other (and me). I noticed this morning students walked right by me as I said hello and at the end of the day, when I say goodbye as they walk to their buses, sometimes they just ignore me. Tomorrow, the Afternoon Meeting Leader will facilitate the discussion and select a goal for us to work on as a class.

The Maintenance Director reminded everyone to pick up their garbage and books from the floor. So much better than my blood pressure rising as I ask students for the umpteenth time to throw our their scraps or pick up their books. 

The day felt better. All our problems weren't solved, but turning over some of the work to the students made me feel better. It's important for them to take on leadership roles and they are capable of doing so much more than I ever thought. When students are empowered to take on more responsibilities, the hope is that they will be more invested in the classroom and more engaged in the learning. 

How much ownership do you give students? How do you reset your classroom when things start to feel negative? 

Monday, March 20, 2017

Day 20 Five Favorites #SOL17

I have been in "Report Card Hell" (just kidding- I love report cards!) all weekend long, with 5 more comments to write. I am out of ideas for today's Slice, so cashing in my "Get out of writer's block free" card by using Leigh Anne Eck's brilliant idea to share 5 favorites. If you missed her post, click here to get your card too! 

Today I'm going to share my 5 favorite podcasts.

I never understood what podcasts were until last summer when I finally figured out how to download one and listen! I've been hooked. They are fun to listen to in the car or while I'm folding laundry. I love how listening to the stories told and the new ideas shared. The 5 listed here are among my favorites, but I listen to others, too. Missing Richard Simmons has become my favorite one lately because the story is so captivating!

Do you listen to podcasts? Which ones would you recommend? 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Day 19 Making Writing #SOL17

"Don't go in there yet!" my six year old son, Alex, warns me as I walk into the office, where he is cutting paper. He scurries into the living room to finish his project, then beckons, "Okay, come in now!"

This is what I find. A banner of papers taped together, with emoji looking hearts and happy faces. Then, signs and books he has created (I'm partial to the "I love mom" one). He reads me a book he made, The Hat Book. The first page says, "A red hat" with a picture of a red hat. The next page says "Family" and Alex leaps up to get a pen to revise his work and add the word "hat." He is so proud of what he has created. 

This is why I'm a "Pantser" and cannot plan out Slices. I was thinking about writing something else entirely different tonight, until I walked down the stairs and had this experience with Alex. I am thinking about how my son loves to write for his own purposes. Imaginative and inventive, Alex often searches for paper to tell his stories or ideas. Often while playing, Alex uses writing in personally meaningful, motivating ways. The same boy will hide, moan and groan and procrastinate at homework time. I wonder how he would have fared in my kindergarten writing workshop, where I required students to write "personal narratives." I think Alex would have hated that and might have drawn an epic bad guy battle, like so many of my former students used to do, to my teacher-confusion. Now, as a mom, I see how my son uses story and writing to construct his play and how limiting it might have been to expect all students to approach writing the way I asked. 

Earlier today, I wrote a grant proposal for our PTA. They are offering up to $150 for individual teachers.  I've been wanting to develop a writing makerspace in my classroom after reading Angela Stockman's book Make Writing: 5 Teaching Strategies That Turn Writer's Workshop Into a Maker Space. The TWT Voxer group I am part of has discussed writing makerspaces too, and it feels like an innovative way to make writing workshop feel just like it did for my son tonight- a place to use writing to create your vision. A place where you can get up, move, use different tools and materials and make something that means something to you. 

My grant proposal asks for a pegboard and a system to hang up pegs. In pictures from Angela Stockman's WNY Young Writer's Studio, you can see how a pegboard would be a perfect place to store all different kinds of materials used for creating. 
Picture from WNY Young Writer's Studio 

When I was a new-ish teacher, Multiple Intelligences was the buzzword. Writing makerspace would be a place that could tap into several different intelligences instead of just verbal/linguistic, which you would typically see in a regular writing workshop. With writing makerspace, you would make room for kids with visual/spatial intelligence, possibly musical/rhythmic, kinesthetic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal. Kids who might be reluctant writers could get to the writing through creating, which might be another doorway into the process. 

I am still learning and envisioning how this all might look in my classroom and I don't know if I will be awarded the grant. But seeing my son's pride and excitement at what he created, how his words and pictures sent a powerful message of love to me, reassured me that it is a worthwhile goal to create a place for students to be able to "make writing."

(Side note: I was so touched by the comments on my post yesterday. I feel very fortunate to be a teacher-writer in this  supportive and kind community of educators who write. It is a safe, welcoming place and the comments really meant a lot to me. So thank you! It was a better day.)

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Day 18 Limping to the Publish Button Slice #SOL17

This is a limping to the publish button Slice. 
This is a Friday-night-after-St-Patrick's Day-craziness-at-work Slice.
This is a report card weekend, stacks of papers to grade first Slice.
This is an exhausted, 'cause it was my daughter's fourth birthday this week Slice
This is a someone hurt my feelings and I don't want to talk about it Slice
This is a rough teaching day, feeling kind of down Slice.
This is a reason my blog is about having courage to try again tomorrow Slice.
This is a hoping tomorrow brings fresh energy and ideas for a Slice. 
This is a limping to the publish button Slice. 

Friday, March 17, 2017

Day 17 The Luckier I Get #SOL17

"The harder I work, the luckier I get."
-Samuel Goldwyn

I shared this quote with my class the day before St. Patrick's Day. I should have waited until today, when "the luck of the Irish" is on their minds, but the quote came to my inbox that morning and it struck me as important to share. One of our class jobs is the Chief Inspiration Officer, and that person selects a quote to share with the class at our Morning Meeting. I need to add more quotes to our selection because we've been hearing the same ones again and again. This quote seemed like an important one to share.

When I read it to my class, they didn't quite get it. Didn't make the connection that when people say you are lucky to win the game, or get the prize, they sometimes miss the fact that you practiced for hours each day or worked really hard on that poster which won the contest and earned you the prize. 

It's been true for me. The harder I work, the more opportunities present themselves to me. I also think "courage" and "audacity" are somewhere in that mix too. Courage to tackle a new opportunity, work hard, and make it a successful venture and the audacity to believe you can and should have that opportunity. "Audacious" is my one little word for 2017 because that is the piece where I need some work- new opportunities often leave me feeling unworthy for them or with an imposter complex ("If they only knew how much I really suck, they would not want me to ________"). 

Much in life is out of our control, but we make our own choices. We can choose how much effort we will put into any project or work we have to do. I believe in giving it your all, in going the extra mile, in working hard. As Steve Martin said, "Be so good they can't ignore you." And then, when others say how luck you are to be getting A, B, or C, you'll know it really wasn't about luck at all. 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Day 16 A Pantser Reflects on Student Blogging #SOL17

As a "Pantser" (yet to grab my badge),  I don't plan my Slices in advance. I wanted to be more of a Planner and even though I could create a theme for each day. Turns out, as much as I love the idea of knowing what I will write before I write it, that isn't really how I process life. I need to write after I live it, if that makes sense. 

The down-side is, some nights or mornings don't have a fabulous idea all ready to roll and the pressure of the clock ticking doesn't allow for time to come up with one. Yesterday was my daughter's 4th birthday and by the time the festivities were done, I was exhausted. A full work bag begged for my attention because report cards are due Monday and I still have endless hours of work to go to make that happen. Still, I was exhausted and sleep won, before I could do any more work or compose today's post.

As I sat down to write this post, I first checked my class' Kidblog page. We are deep in the challenge now. I'm awarding badges to students for different purposes- writing a poem, commenting on at least 3 people a day, writing for 5 days in a row. 7 students have yet to earn one badge at all. Part of the issue is students have to jot the name of their post in a booklet I created and jot names of classmates whom they've commented on. This does not take long, but saves me endless amounts of time for awarding badges. Some students have trouble remembering to write in their packet and others have said flat out, they aren't doing the challenge. Which I find puzzling and a little sad. I give them time in the morning to blog and I've also said they could blog on paper if technology is an issue at home. I just bought many prizes through Scholastic, which I will be giving away to kids who've earned 7 badges at the end of the challenge. Why wouldn't you give it a try? It's not hard to earn badges but some aren't making any attempt at all. I've accepted it, but it bothers me.

I am also struggling with seeing how many students forget punctuation and write their blog as one, very long sentence. Capital letters too. One students has taken to always using a lowercase letter to start her name. How much of this do I correct? I don't want to take away the joy and excitement of blogging, but how do I help them see that posts with proper punctuation are so much better to read (without hurting anyone's feelings)? Some bloggers are writing one sentence and then saying "Comment me if you agree" or something like that. This seems to be a big thing- they like comments and will use the word as a verb. But they are providing very little for a person to comment on! And there is not much thought going into a post that is one sentence long.

One of my student bloggers writes with correct conventions and she works to incorporate craft in her posts. They are a pleasure to read. But how much do I highlight that? Should I pick one post a day to celebrate and why I like it so much? Perhaps calling students attention to proper conventions along with a meaty message?

One thing I've done so far is highlight a student blogger of the day. I've put a QR code (that leads you to a portfolio of that student's posts) on a sheet of paper and the student writes down what he/she enjoys blogging about. Students enjoy being highlighted in this way, but I could do more to celebrate their best posts.

Time is just the enemy! Squeezing the challenge into a packed curriculum at report card time makes it hard to do all I want to do with the challenge.

One other take-away: student blogging really does offer a teacher more insight into students' lives. You see what they enjoy and the interests they have. I might never known some of the stories and interests students share through their blogging. It helps to get to know them on a different level, and also shows me what I should work to connect to curriculum to make things more interesting for them.

If your students are blogging this month, how is it going for you?

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Day #15 This is Four #SOL17


This is four.
Four is all about asking the hard to answer questions: Heaven, and bad guys, and babies in tummies and how they got there. 
Four is starting to name letters of the alphabet and typing out the word "Biscuit" on the computer (with some coaching from Mom).
Four is wanting to do everything just like her big brother.
Four is using words like "supervised" as in "I can use Sharpies if I'm supervised."
Four means she can still cuddle into my lap and I can still lift her up.
Four is hair being uneven from when she cut it at three and 1/2 
Four means ballet classes, soccer, yoga, and soon swimming.
Four is coloring and painting and making art projects.
Four is listening to books read aloud: Biscuit, Madeline, Knuffle Bunny
Four means actually hiding during Hide and Go Seek and not screaming out 
"I'm in here!"
Four is not a baby anymore.
Four looks more like a little girl.

I look back at my baby, my one year old, two year old, and tonight for the last time, my three year old, and I marvel at how time passes. I am beyond grateful for the gift of Megan in our lives, for the baby she was, the toddler, and now the little lady who makes me laugh every day and fills my heart with joy and pride. Happy Birthday to our sunshine, our daughter, Megan.