Monday, December 5, 2016

The Act of Writing

Thank you Two Writing Teachers for creating this space for me to share my corner of the world.

I am a "BBC" workshop teacher, and I am not a very good one at that.  I have been trained by "Books, Blogs, and Conferences", and I have never seen workshop in action. So when something goes well in my classroom, I am thrilled.  

We just finished a unit on historical fiction, which is not an easy genre to write.  I planned my mini lessons based on what I thought my students would need to be successful in the unit, along with lessons based on observations I noticed in their prior writing.  

We spent three weeks writing these narratives - the longest time most of my students had ever spent on a piece.  I am sure this seems odd to many of you, but you have to understand that my students do not come from workshop classrooms. They come from prompt writing, and many are very good prompt writers.

But this week I set them free.  Free from the restraints of formulaic writing.  Free from the rules that bind them to writing prompts.  Free to completely immerse themselves in the act of writing.  And it was wonderful.

After the unit I asked them to list two things they learned about writing in these three weeks.  Yes, I had many who listed the mini lessons I taught and the rules I told them they could break and why, but I also had students who learned lessons I didn't teach. The lessons they learned by simply writing.  Here are some of their responses:

  • "I learned that you can twist the writing rules a bit for your story."
  • "I learned that you can write a one sentence paragraph."
  • "You can start a new paragraph when you want to make the sentence before stand out."
  • "I learned that writing is to entertain people."
  • "Writing isn't just putting words on to a piece of paper."
  • "I learned that you don't have to write with guidelines like we do with a prompt."
  • "I learned how hard it is to write."
  • "I learned that writing is a very complicated process."
  • "I learned that you can use sentence fragments when you want to emphasize something in your writing."
  • "I learned that you can't just write a story and be done."
  • "Writing takes a long time."
  • "That it is hard and takes a lot of work, but it is fun."
That is what teaching writers is all about.

(I am in the process of adding student writing to a new page on my blog.  Click here to read one of their narratives.)

Saturday, November 12, 2016

A Glimpse - Celebrate #22

Each week Ruth Ayres extends an invitation to share and celebrate events, big or small, from our week.

Sometimes I think God prepares us for what is to come by giving us a small glimpse in the present.

Ethan is out of town visiting his girlfriend and experiencing a new kind of freedom.

Megan is at the gym with the coaching staff preparing for the girls' basketball game tonight.

My husband is at the cabin at the river...doing whatever men do at river cabins.

I am sitting here writing, taking time to do what I want to do and being thankful for a glimpse of the empty nest. 

I am thankful that my children are young adults who can navigate their way through their world and are happy with their life decisions thus far.  I am thankful that my husband appreciates his time away and understands that I need mine as well.

Today is a glimpse of what's to come...and I am OK with that.

Because I have reminders that the nest isn't empty yet...

        the humming of the washing machine with the weekend's first load of laundry

        the unwashed dishes on the counter from yesterday's late night snack

        the shoes laying by the door haphazardly kicked off

        the backpacks and school bags sitting on the couch

Yes, it is just a glimpse....and I am OK with that for now.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

My Megan Mum

Thank you Two Writing Teachers for creating this space for me to share my corner of the world.

I love fall.  I love every single thing about it.  

The sweater weather, 
the pumpkin spice, 
the sound of crunching leaves, 
the first fire,
the color palette.

But there is one thing that doesn't love me - mums.  Have you ever tried to grow mums?  For me, it is not easy.  Yes, I have them sitting in pots on my porch, and many times I have tried to plant them in the ground in hopes that I could enjoy them the following year.  But in most of my efforts, I have not been successful.

When I was pregnant with my son 20 years ago, my mother-in-law bought my daughter, Megan, a flower.  It was a mum, a "Megan" mum. (Yes! That really is its name!)

Knowing my luck with planting mums, I decided to plant it NOT in the landscape by the house, but down in a place that we call the point, just in case it didn't make it.  I have wild Black-eyed Susan's and monkey grass planted there.  It is an intentional place that doesn't need much maintenance.  

Well, that little Megan mum has come back year after year after year...

for 20 years.  

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Why I Stopped Reading Ms. Bixby...For Now

Ms. Bixby's Last Day has been a book of false starts for me.  

According to Goodreads, I started this book on September 3rd, and it is now October 16th.  I would read a few chapters, and then another book would find its way on a higher rung of the To-Be-Read ladder, leaving Ms. Bixby back on the nightstand.

I had read the reviews from other teachers, and I knew this was my kind of book - heart fiction, the books I devour.  I even learned the author was from my home state of Indiana.

But the book still sat on the nightstand...until last night.

I decided to give it another try, and this time, I could not put it down.

I read to page 232.  

And I stopped.  

And I cried.

"We all have moments when we think nobody really sees us.  When we feel like we have to act out or be somebody else just to get noticed.  But somebody notices, Topher.  Somebody sees.  Somebody out there thinks you are the greatest thing in the whole world.  Don't ever think you're not good enough."

I fear how this book is going to end.  And a part of me doesn't want it to end.  But I stopped because I want to be Ms. Bixby.  I want to be one of the good ones.

I thought about those students who sit in my classroom day after day and feel unnoticed or act out in order to "be seen."  I want to see them, really see them, maybe for the very first time.  In my mind I went through the roster of former students, and I saw Steve and Topher and Brand looking back at me.  I want to think I made a difference, but I aways question, "Was it enough?"

My heart has been altered by reading this book, which is one of the reasons why I read.  I have always believed in the power of relationships.  When I read a book about a teacher like Ms. Bixby, it reminds me of why I became a teacher in the first place... 

and all that I aspire to be.

Thank you John David Anderson.  

Friday, October 14, 2016

Change - Celebration #21

Each week Ruth Ayres extends an invitation to share and celebrate events, big or small, from our week.

Change brings celebrations.

Our first grading period ended.  We get to take a few steps back to reflect and refocus so that we can take steps forward.  Any time we we get to start again, whether it is the changing of a new day, a new week, a new season, it is a celebration.

Fall poked its head out this week.  Temperatures dropped, delighting us with a slight chill in the air.  Color kissed the edges of the tree lines, leaving behind its lipstick stain among the green. But fall is such a tease, because warmer temperatures are returning later this week.

I am working on a one day workshop that I will be presenting in January.  It focuses on teachers as writers and the impact on instruction in grades 3-6.  Because all of you are writers, you understand why we write.  But many teachers do not.  They are not comfortable teaching writing or feel they are not effective writing teachers.  My hope is that this workshop will give them the confidence to become a better teacher of writing through experiencing the process of writing, building their own community of writers, and understanding how this will impact their students' learning.  I have a lot of work to do, but I am celebrating.

And celebrations bring about change.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Passion - Celebrate #20

Each week Ruth Ayres extends an invitation to share and celebrate events, big or small, from our week.

Today I celebrate passion.  

The subject of a Twitter chat this week was creating literacy communities.  This topic just happens to be my favorite to talk about.  I guess you could call it a passion of mine.

Passion is like kindling.  It sparks an idea into action.  It flames the fire of action into a movement.  And the results of a movement can be life altering.

I think about those teachers who have shared their passion with me.  When we share our own passion, we build passion within others.  When we fan those flames, potential for a wildfire exists.  When we don't, we are left only with small sticks in our hands.

I love to share my passion for literacy with others, especially when I never know how it might be that spark for another teacher.

This week I received this message from a friend who is a curriculum direction in a county school.  She has a friend who is a teacher in other part of the state.  

Little did I know this teacher was watching my tweets and following my passion.

I shared this tweet again this week during the chat. I have shared this many times before, and I even said I am sure teachers are tired of seeing my door!

But this tweet got 15 retweets and 55 likes, more than any other time I have tweeted it.  

It's NOT about sharing my door; it is about sharing my passion.  And for me, that never gets old.

I love this quote about purpose and passion.  I know Ruth is trying to finish her book and share her passion for writing and story with others.  Her work builds my passion.  

And we must continue to do the same for others. 

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Agency - It's Not Just for Students

Digilit Sunday

Today I am participating in Digital Learning Sunday with Margaret Simon at Reflections on the Teche.  This week Margaret has encouraged us to write about agency.

It is funny how when a topic is chosen, it seems to turn up in my teaching life.  Or maybe it is because I am more open to looking for the topic of discussion.

Yesterday I had the privilege of watching two live sessions of The Edcollab Gathering. The first was Katherine Bomer's session about writing essays, the topic of her new book, The Journey is Everything.  She talked about giving students space to think about what matters to them.  

The second session was Kim Yaris and Jan Burkins, the authors of "Who's Doing the Work?"  One part of the discussion was about how work such as confirming and crosschecking while reading, needs to be the work of the reader, not the teacher.  

Both of these sessions were about student agency or when students become their own teachers.  Research shows that students learn better when they take charge in their own learning.  Agency empowers students to believe they have the capacity to learn.  During Kim and Jan's presentation, they showed how easy it is for teachers to "do the work" for students.  I am guilty of this. Sometimes it is much easier and quicker to step in.

These two sessions led me to reflect about agency in my classroom.

How am I creating space, time and opportunities for my students to be agents in their own learning?   

How am I lessening my role in the classroom so I am not promoting learned helplessness?

I am also reading Visible Learning for Teachers by John Hattie for a book study.  This book has me thinking about teacher agency.  

The big idea throughout Hattie's book is that we, as teachers, need to see our primary role as the evaluator of our effect on learning, not the evaluator of our teaching.  

As teachers, we often dwell on why students can't learn.  Is it because of their backgrounds, their lack of motivation, their learning styles, their inattentiveness, their refusal to take medication, or the lack of supportive parents?  

Hattie implies that focusing on these explanations is the root of deficit thinking, and we cannot change them.  Could this be learned helplessness?  

Instead, we must think of ourselves as positive change agents.  Hattie stresses that "teachers' beliefs and commitments are the greatest influences on student achievement over which we have some control" (25).

If I am to believe that these changes are within my power as a teacher, I need to ask myself these questions from Hattie's book:

How am I creating an optimal classroom climate for learning?
How am I monitoring learning and providing feedback?
How am I organizing content so students have a deep understanding of the content?
How am I setting expectations for all students to reach success?
How am I setting challenging student goals instead of "do your best" goals?

If student agency is a way of empowering students, then isn't teacher agency just as important?  The more students become teachers and teachers become learners, then the more successful are our classrooms.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Holding On - Celebrate #19

Each week Ruth Ayres extends an invitation to share and celebrate events, big or small, from our week.

As I read Ruth's post today about this community holding on in her absence, I am reminded of the importance of holding on.  Although we linger with the past and turn toward tomorrow, sometimes it is holding on that allows us to celebrate the today.

Today I am celebrating the things I have held on to this week.

my children's futures
my husband's heart
the last days of summer

Monday, September 19, 2016

Bits of Tradition

Thank you Two Writing Teachers for creating this space for me to share my corner of the world.

It's that time of year.  Pumpkins on porches, falling leaves, sweater-weather days, and Friday night football games.

It is also a time for homecoming, and in my hometown, homecoming is huge.  It is so big, one year we had CNN arrive on our doorsteps to film a documentary.

Hundreds of people return to share laughs, stories and memories.  Students build floats, and classes from every five years come back to ride in the 
parade.  Alumni from 50-60 years back come home to rejoin and celebrate the traditions.  One year we had a gentleman representing 75 years. Now, THAT is tradition.

When my friends (the EJDs) and I turned 50, we had this picture taken in front of the building.

Later that year
, our old high school was tore down.  We learned we must embrace change and progress while holding tradition in our hearts. 
Bit by bit, 

brick by brick, 

the building came down.  

Photo courtesy of Travis Connor

Photo courtesy of Travis Connor

Even amidst the ruble, tradition lives on.

On my mantle sits a jar of bits.  Bits of laughter.  Bits of memories.  Bits of stories. Bits of tradition that I will always hold dear.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Revision - The Misunderstood Step

Digilit Sunday

Today I am participating in Digital Learning Sunday with Margaret Simon at Reflections on the Teche.  This week Margaret has encouraged us to write about revision.

For many of my students, revision is the most misunderstood step in the writing process.  Many students confuse editing with revising.  And many students just rewrite exactly what they already have written and turn it in.  

Digital literacy, through the use of Google docs, has made revision moves easier to point out to my students.  They can scan back through the revision history and easily see the changes they have made.  However, students seem to avoid the needed steps to revision when writing is done with paper and pencil.  

But this step in the process still needs to be taught.  Because many teachers do not write themselves, they are not strong revisers, therefore lack a deep understanding of the skill and craft of revision.

Because of this lack of knowledge, revision is sometimes the step in the writing process that receives the most neglect.  I am guilty.  We are great at brainstorming topics, drafting, editing with a checklist, and publishing, but for me as a teacher of writing, revising is the one I hurry through.  Although as I write in my own life, revising is the one step in the process in which I take the most time.  

I have caught myself quickly saying to students, "You need to add more details."  

But what does that exactly mean to a young writer?

Last spring I watched The Educator Collaborative Gathering, and Roz Linder had a segment about her new book, The Big Book of Details:  46 Moves for Teaching Writers to Elaborate.

I was hesitant about buying it because I was afraid it would be geared more toward younger writers and narrative writing, which we don't do as much of in middle school. 

But I was so wrong, and I am so glad I purchased this book.

The Big Book of Details is great resource for teaching revision in all areas of writing: narrative, opinion and argumentative, and also informational.  

Each section contains an if/then chart with "If you see this in student's writing...try this..." which will help guide teachers to move their students forward.

Each lesson contains:

"What does this move look like in writing"
"When writers make this move" 
"How I introduce this move"
"Guided writing practice ideas"

I know revision is an area of teaching which I need to "revise", and I think this book just may be the answer.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

"Those" Students - Celebrate #18

Each week Ruth Ayres extends an invitation to share and celebrate events, big or small, from our week.

Many students come to us with labels - reading labels, cognitive labels, behavior labels, economic labels.  Many times those labels are categorized as "those" students.

I have one of "those" students this year.  "B" has become my challenge, my goal, my celebration.  "B" doesn't like school, hates teachers, and does very little to keep that a secret during the school day.  I told "B" on the first day of school that my goal for this year was to keep him school.  That goal is in jeopardy.  

Building relationships with "those" students is even more important.  Each teacher in our school was asked to choose a student to focus on this year, and we are to document how we are making that extra effort with them.  

The day I chose "B" my colleagues just looked at me.  They know how difficult this task will be.

If not me, then who?  If I don't try, if I don't believe in "B,"  then once again, "B" loses because another adult has given up on him.

I have learned from Ruth the importance of loving "those" kids, the ones who are difficult, the ones who come from hard lives, the ones who don't feel loved.

I have learned from Ruth to celebrate those small moments, those moments which give us hope, those moments which give us joy.  We cling to these moments so that believing in "those" students becomes easier.

Today I celebrate one of those moments.  

We had an on-demand writing this week.  I sat down beside "B" and asked him to give me his best.  I told him I thought he could do this work, but he had to show me that he could.  My last words to him were, "I believe in you."

This is what he gave me.  This is what I celebrate.  It gives me hope.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Flashback 1982

Thank you Two Writing Teachers for creating this space for me to share my corner of the world.

Eight jelly donuts.  To all of you these three words have no importance or significance whatsoever.  You may not even like jelly donuts.

For me, these three little words hold so much laughter and so many memories.  You may think that is quite odd.  I would too.

Eight jelly donuts, or more affectionately called the EJDs, are my high school group of friends.  Yes, there is a story behind that name, and when I told some of my colleagues about how we arrived at the name, they were shocked.  They couldn't believe that I would do something like that.

The eight of us were behind many pranks using jelly donuts.  My favorite memory is making a banner for our homecoming game that said, "EJDs say smear 'em!"  That pretty much explains it all.

Several weeks ago, we had a reunion of sorts.  The eight of us got together for a weekend, as we do every couple of years.  

We laughed until we cried, and then laughed some more.  

We ate until we were stuffed, and then ate some more.

We stayed up late, and got up early.  

We soaked in every single minute of our time together.

The best part of these weekends together is that time seems to stand still.  We always pick up right where we left off.  The only thing that really changes is the topic of some of our conversations.  We have gone from having babies, to busy mom schedules, to needing reading glasses, to sending kids off to college, to being grandmas, to colonoscopies and menopause!

This time, two of my friends decided it would be fun to recreate our senior prom picture.  They gathered up prom dresses from their own girls and from friends of theirs.  Can you just imagine 50-something year olds trying on prom dresses that really belong on 16-18 year old young ladies?  

This is one of the many times where we laughed until we cried, but we had so much fun trying to zip up those dresses!  

So may I present to you Prom Night 1982 in the year of 2016!

Sunday, September 11, 2016


Digilit Sunday

Today I am participating in Digital Learning Sunday with Margaret Simon at Reflections on the Teche.  This week Margaret has encouraged us to write about reflection.

Today, September 11th, seems to be the perfect day for reflection.  I, as I am sure all of you, remember exactly what I was doing the day of the terrorist attack.  I was a stay-at-home mom at the time.  Megan was a 3rd grader, and Ethan was in pre-school. My sister-in-law was staying at my in-laws who lived next door.  She came running over, telling me to turn on the television.  And I was glued to it the rest of the day and into the night.

Our world has been forever changed.  During those next few days, months, and even years, many people reflected on our country's patriotism and our faith in each other, our country and our God.  Reflection came to the forefront through this tragedy.

As a teacher, reflection is as routine as planning lessons.  It is a part of the daily process.  As a writer, reflection is a common thread woven throughout my writing.  It's what I do.

These beginning weeks of school, I have come to realize that many of my students do not know what true reflection is.  Many of them can write opinions, can summarize text and answer text based questions, but writing how they are affected or what they learned through an experience or by reading a text, escapes some of them.  

I have to ask myself, is this a product of the testing culture?  Are we stifling students' ability to connect with a text? Are we giving them a chance to express emotions when reading a text or to write how this reading has affected them?  Are we asking them to think beyond the evidence?  Is prompt writing so ingrained in them, that reflection is foreign to them?

Or have we, as teachers, not taught them how to reflect and given them the opportunity to try it out.

These are questions I am reflecting on as I learn more about my students as writers.  But I don't want to wait for a tragedy to create reflective writers.

I assign an article of the week each week.  Part of the assignment is some type of writing, mostly standard-based. This week after reading and studying examples, they are to write a reflection paragraph (we are starting slow).  This will be their first one, so I have to keep in mind this piece is a benchmark and my goal is to see them grow as writers.

I plan to move into digital reflection through blogging, Padlet, and Google Slides.  Finding an outlet for reflection that meets their needs will be a key part in motivating them. 

I know I have lots of teaching and modeling to do, and I know they need lots of practice.  

I hope to use my own reflections from reading Katherine Bomer's new book, The Journey is Everything to help them become writers who better understand themselves, each other, and the world in which we live.  

To me, that is the essence of reflection.