Saturday, August 20, 2016

Unplugged - Celebrate #15

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

Today I feel as if I am a stranger in a place that once was so familiar.  A place where I could share and celebrate and think and wonder and laugh and cry.

But it also became a place where I felt over-committed and tired and empty.  I took a much needed break and abandoned my routine of blogging and writing.  My small writing break stretched into days and weeks and now months, something which wasn't intentional, but much needed.  

I tried to come back but I just wasn't ready yet.  I still needed more time to figure out why I write, where I wanted my writing to go and who I am as a writer.

Then school started two weeks ago, and as I began to plan my writing lessons, I felt like an impostor, a phony.   I became someone who says she writes but has rarely opened a notebook or picked up a pen in two months.

I strongly believe that in order to teach writing effectively, one must write.  Realizing the day had come when I needed to begin writing again, I picked up my pen.  I opened my notebook.  And the words and ideas flowed onto the page as if no time had passed.  

During these two months, I learned that sometimes we need to take a step back, take a deep breath, and unplug ourselves.  And that is perfectly OK.

Realizing I "still work" gives me reason to celebrate today.

Have a wonderful week 
and may you find many celebrations along the way!

Sunday, August 7, 2016

"Introduce Yourself" with Google Slides

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 preparing for a new school year.

Last Thursday I began my 10th year of teaching, and I still get excited to greet a new group of students and wonder about all the magic that the new year holds.  

This year's students have a special label - "the students I abandoned."  

Two years ago I moved from the elementary level to the middle school level, and these are the students I would have had, had I stayed in 4th grade.  That spring I invited all of the third graders up to my classroom, and we had a wax museum where my current students became the person they read in a biography.  We talked about what it was like in 4th grade, and I told them all how excited I was to have them next year.

And then I left.

I look forward to finally being their teacher this year.  

I have spent a lot of time this summer learning about Google Classroom and all the amazing things I can do with this technology.  After attending a conference in June, I wrote a post and had teachers share their summer learning on Google Slides.  It was a fun way for me to try it out and connect with others.

This week I am using Google Slides with my students to introduce themselves to the class.  They will all have a slide in a presentation where they will tell three things about themselves and take and post a picture.  I will then play it for parents during our Back to School Night in a couple of weeks. 

If you use Google Classroom and have never been to Alice Keeler's website, I highly urge you to go.  Here is a link which will take you to the Google Slide template I used.  The best part is that it is all set up for you.  Just copy it, and you are ready to start your own Google Slides presentation with your students.

I am so excited to get back to school, to get back to blogging after taking the month of July off, and to get back to reading, writing, and teaching.

Let the school year begin.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Singing a New Song

I know with many of my posts I am just preaching to the choir because many of my readers and I share the same beliefs.  This post is no different.  As Donalyn  Miller often says, "You preach to the choir because you want the choir to be loud."

But what about those teachers who do not know how to sing?

Last year I was having a conversation with an elementary teacher about independent reading in my classroom.  I teach in a district that uses Accelerated Reader, but she knows I do not like the program.  She asked me "If you don't do AR, how do you get kids to read?"

That's when I realized this teacher is one of those who did not know how to sing. Sadly, I think many more are just like her.  They have become so dependent on a program, they no longer remember "the words" or maybe even have a voice.

Today I am answering that question with a simplistic, yet multi-faceted answer.

By living a literate life.
  1. I read the books my students read so I am better prepared to recommend titles to them.  Building reading relationships with students is built upon my knowledge of books.  Throughout the school year, our relationships move from teacher to student, to reader to reader.  They trust me to give them suggestions, and they trust our conversations.
  2. I share my reading life.  I set a yearlong challenge for myself, and they see when I struggle with a book or struggle to find time to read.  Students get to know my preferences, and they know when I laugh, when I cry and when I abandon a book.
  3. I have a well-stocked classroom library where books are within the reach of my students.  School libraries are essential to developing a reading culture, but quickly handing and suggesting books to students "in the moment" is even more important.  
  4. I talk about books.  I talk about the books I am reading, I talk about the books they are reading, and they talk about the books they are reading.  Reading is a social activity, and it deserves a place at the discussion table.
  5. I value independent reading.  I give my students time each day in class to read books of their choice.  I have 48 minute periods, but those 10 minutes we read have become nonnegotiable  I have this quote by Donalyn Miller posted outside my room.
A place where "all readers are valued

and all reading is valuable." 

It is not a program that creates readers.  It is the teacher who lives a literate life.  This past year my 100 students, which is one half of a grade level, read over 2,400 books. We read more books than each of the 7th or 8th grade classes.  We did it without a program.  

Because I know I am preaching to the choir, my goal is for you to share this with a teacher who has forgotten how to sing.  Teach them the words to a new song, so our choir can lift our voices for everyone to hear.

Our students deserve it.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

#cyberPD: DIY Literacy - Week One

This summer I am participating in #cyberPD, an online book talk, with an amazing community of educators.  We read, respond and share our learning with each other. The summer's book is DIY Literacy Teaching Tools for Differentiation, Rigor, and Independence by Kate Roberts and Maggie Beattie Roberts.  To learn the basics about #cyberPD visit Cathy's blog, Reflect and Refine.  It's not too late to join us!

Chapter One:  Extending Our Reach

In this chapter Kate and Maggie identify three obstacles we face when teaching our students.  These obstacles are memory, rigor, and differentiation. Our students struggle with remembering all of what we are teaching them. Learning is hard, and sometimes this hard work gets in the way of learning. Our classrooms are full of different learning styles and abilities, and sometimes those students' needs are not being met.

But the beauty of this chapter lies in the answer - "Teaching tools can be...the seemingly simple things that cause great positive change" (3).

I use many of these tools already, but Kate and Maggie have shown me how I can tweak them to help my students "become more powerful, independent readers and writers of a variety of texts".  Don't we all want these "powerful assistants" in our classrooms?

They give three reasons to use teaching tools with our students:
1. Make teacher clear
2. Bring big ideas and goals to life
3. Help learning stick

Simple tools...positive change. 

Chapter Two:  An Introduction to Teaching Tools

Teaching Charts - I love the label of "teaching charts" instead of anchor charts which is what I have always called them.  Looking back at my charts, I use them more as repertoire charts, or a list of strategies, rather than process charts which take a larger skill and break it down into the steps the students need to master that skill.

Demonstration Notebooks - Once again, this is one of those simple things that I think will make a huge difference in my teaching.  To have interactive lessons at my fingertips will be powerful as a teacher.  I have started a list of lessons I want to include, but would love to hear or even see what others are including in their demonstration notebooks.  

Micro-progressions of Skills - Personally, I think this tool will be the most difficult for me.  I know I will struggle to clearly define the three levels of work.  This tool is one I will certainly be looking for examples from all of you and the hashtag #DIYLiteracy.  In the bonus chapter, Kate and Maggie suggest "never teach alone," and that is one piece of advice I intend to heed. 

Bookmarks - I use several bookmarks in my classroom, but all are pre-made and copied for students.  Lightbulb moment -- Letting them make the bookmarks themselves will "create space for them to be self-directed and reflective on the teaching happening in the classroom."  Again, a simple tool for powerful learning.

Bonus Chapter:  How Do I Find (and Write) Strategies for Teaching Tools?

For me, this chapter was the Jackpot!  When I read this book the first time, I remember thinking to myself, "This is all great, but where do I find all of the strategy steps to include in the making of these tools?"  Then, as if they heard my question, Kate and Maggie wrote the bonus chapter!  I find that in my own teaching, I tell the strategy more than I teach the strategy in a clear way for students to use independently and to transfer to other work.

I know I need to do this strategy work for myself.  I need to determine "the what + the how + the why" with many strategies in order for this work to be successful in my classroom.

My personal call to action from week one:
  1. Think about how I can better use these tools in my classroom, especially the micro-progressions and the demonstration notebooks.
  2. Determine strategies I want my students to clearly understand and be able to do.
  3. Find or create examples of learning progressions.
The information in this book is powerful, but just reading the book is pointless if I am not doing the work myself.  I love how Julieanne shares her learning with us by creating her own strategy work with the book Pax.  She has truly set the bar for my summer learning, and I encourage you to read her post.

Now, it is time to get to work!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Importance of Relationships: A Reminder from Pat Summitt

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

It is a very somber day in my house.

I woke up this morning to a daughter who was experiencing a personal form of grief. She woke up to the news that her idol, Pat Summitt, had passed away early this morning.  

Megan has been a Lady Vols fan since she began playing basketball as a young girl. Her senior year, she attended a camp at the University of Tennessee with her high school team, and she has watched the women's team play several times. She even met Pat once at an Indiana Fever game and had her picture taken with her.  Pat Summitt and the Lady Vols have had a huge influence in Megan's life as a girl's basketball player.

Now that Megan is a teacher and a coach, Pat's influence is reaching her in new ways.

As I sit here on the couch listening and watching the celebration of Pat's life, one word keeps winding itself around the reflections and memories of those who knew her...relationships.

Yes, her former players and people in the world of sports talk about her fierce competitiveness, her demands, and even her icy blue stare.  But the common thread in their words is the relationships Pat had with everyone who came in contact with her.

Today as a teacher, I am reminded of the importance of relationships from a legendary coach.

My students deserve a teacher who builds relationships before building lesson plans.  

My students deserve a teacher who will not settle for anything less than their best in and out of the classroom.

My students deserve a teacher who sees them as more than a test score or a reading level.

My students deserve a teacher who will give them the confidence that they can achieve far more than they ever thought they could.

My students deserve a teacher who will teach them life lessons along with lessons in reading and writing.

My students deserve a teacher who makes every decision by putting them first.

It's not all about the game on the court, or in my case the learning in the classroom; its about the relationships with those who are in our life, something Pat Summitt's legacy is built upon.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

You Just Revise

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

My sister Janis and I are only a year (and 19 days) apart in age.  When we were little, our mom would dress us alike, and people would ask if we were twins, although we looked and acted nothing alike.  We still don't look and act anything alike, contrary to what many people say.

My daughter, older sister, younger sister, and me! (l to r)
Four years after I was born, my brother was born, and my little sister came along five years after that.  Janis and I shared a bedroom from the time I was born until the year she went away to college.  We had a huge bedroom, big enough for two twin beds, two chests, two desks, and two nightstands. Plus room to draw an imaginary line down the middle to designate "my side" and "her side."  Walking in, a person could immediately tell which side belong to whom. Her side was neat as a pin, and my side had piles and piles.

Fast-forward many years, and today a person could tell which house belongs to which sister.  In her house everything is in its place, and in my house everything is in its pile. It is funny to see how those behaviors or personalities still exist.  

And given our personalities, I don't think it is a coincidence that she is a math teacher and I am an English teacher.  

We have many, many conversations about teaching.  The other day she was talking about how she gets frustrated using Jigsaw because she has to change her groups depending on how many students she has in each class.  When she said, "They don't always work out the same for every period" I started laughing.

She asked me why I was laughing.  I replied, "Because I am an English teacher and when groups don't work just revise!  Groups aren't suppose to be an algorithm with one right answer like math."

I guess there are some things in life...or in just can't change!

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Summer PD ~ Celebrate #14

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

Today I celebrate summer learning.

Betsy Hubbard from Two Writing Teachers wrote about making summer learning plans to achieve goals in the classroom next year.  Summer learning is one of the best parts of summer.  

I have attended several conferences and workshops already this summer, and still have a few left. Sharing our learning ranks right up there with making the plans.  Together, we can improve our own learning, and in the process, strengthen our students' learning as well. I will be writing blog posts about my summer learning, in hopes that you may learn something too!

I spent two days last week at an eLearn conference, and Alice Keeler was the keynote speaker and also presented several sessions on Google Classroom.  Alice knows Google!  

I kept hearing over and over again about using Google Slides in my classroom.  I have dabbled in Google Classroom and created small collaborative presentations, but I was excited to come home and start thinking about how I could use this tech tool in my classroom.  

Imagine presenting a question to the class, and each student responding on a Google Slide.  If you have any experience with Google Slides, then I am sure you are thinking - utter chaos.  

This may not be easy in the beginning, but Alice assures me that they will get better at it.  The end result is a slide show with all of their responses.  What a great way to collaborate, as well as to create deep class discussions and teaching moments around their responses.

Alice wrote a blog post about using Google Slides to have students introduce themselves at the beginning of the year.  Here is the link to that post and step by step directions.

In order to share our learning this summer (and for me to practice too!) I have created a collaborative Google Slide presentation.  Click on the link below, upload a picture, and share something you have learned this summer.  Then come back and take a look at all the summer learning!

Add your summer learning slide here and celebrate summer learning with me!

Friday, June 17, 2016

Summer PD ~ Conver-Stations

I love many things about summer:  reading by the pool, eating summer produce, sleeping in, and taking time for me.  But at the top of my list is personal learning. Summer grants us time to read professional development books, collaborate on-line and in real time, and attend professional development conferences and workshops.

People frequently ask me why do I "waste (their word, not mine!) my summer with school stuff?"

My answer is simple.  First of all I do not consider it a waste.  I do it because I am a learner, and I want to improve my teaching and my students' learning.  Over these next fews weeks, I hope to share some of my learning with all of you.

I taught 4th and 5th grade for seven years before I became a middle school teacher. As an elementary teacher I created learning stations or choices which I preferred to call them.  A part of me misses this type of learning because it was so easy to differentiate and keep students engaged.

I attended a session this week presented by Jill Lyday and Melanie Martz from our Indiana Department of Education which put a twist on station work in the secondary classroom.  They presented a learning strategy called Conver-Stations.  I absolutely love this idea because it can be adapted to any content area and with many types of texts.

Here's how it works!

  1. Select a text.  We read an article, but this strategy could easily be used with a poem, an image, or even a video.
  2. Prepare an essential question which could encourage deep discussion. 
  3. Have students read and annotate the text.  If you use a video or image, notes could be taken.
  4. Divide into groups and have groups discuss the text and the essential question.  During the discussion students record good discussion points from others.
  5. After 2-3 minutes, rotate 1-2 students into another group.  The number of rotations and students who rotate will depend on the class size.
  6. Continue discussion for several "conver-stations" and then come back as a whole group to share out.
  1. Gets kids moving.  Many students find it difficult to sit still and stay engaged.  This allows students to get up and move around.
  2. Facilitates deep discussion. I found when doing this activity, the first question asked was what did you talk about in your other group?  These stations allow the discussion to go in different directions and give different perspectives, one that the group may not have thought of.  
  3. Creates a culture of learning.  Every student is involved in the discussion, unlike what you may have in a whole group discussion.  Having the students record discussion points from others, gives introverted students more confidence to share with others.  It helps them to contribute to the conversation.
Conver-stations have so much potential.  I can't wait to start using this strategy in my classroom.

If you wish to view this strategy in action, here is a link to a video from Teaching Channel!

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Grandma - Celebrate #13

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

Today I celebrate my grandma.  I am 51 years old and lucky to still have my grandma in my life.  She will turn 91 in just a few weeks.  Tonight I sit with her and watch her sleep, understanding that the mind is such a fragile thing.  And I write these words which are on my heart.


day by day
pieces of her 
leave unexpectedly
without saying goodbye

words escape her
so we sit together
and enjoy 
a silent conversation

memories are mere moments 
of another person's life
one she doesn't remember

a moment of hope
a sparkle in her eye
she knows me
if for only for a short while
and I smile
and say
I love you, 


Have a great week, and may you find many celebrations along the way.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

#CyberPD and Me

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

I have wanted to write this post for some time, so when Michelle Nero, Cathy Mere, and Laura Komos announced the title chosen for this summer's #CyberPD, I knew it was time.  I was not only excited about the book they chose because I already owned it, but also because I am in the book.

Here is my story...

It was the first week in August.  I was looking through my Twitter feed when I came across a tweet by Kate Roberts asking if anyone was in school yet who would be interested in piloting a lesson for a new book she was writing.

We were to start school the next day, so I tweeted her back saying I might be interested.  She asked for my email so she could explain what she was wanting.  After giving me a couple of days to settle in with my kids, she outlined what she needed me to do ~ teach a lesson, make an anchor chart, and have kids write.  Luckily for me, that's pretty much what I do.

After several emails back and forth, I taught the lesson, made the chart, took pictures of everything, and sent it off.  In every email I sent her, I always said, "If this isn't what you want, please let me know.  I will not be offended if it isn't."  I am sure Kate was tired of reading that, but I wanted to give her an opportunity to opt out if I totally bombed this!  But she was extremely helpful and gracious!

In the acknowledgments, Kate and Maggie say, "Deep gratitude goes to Leigh Anne Eck, our first brave Twitter contributor."  I laugh because it is easy being brave when you can hide behind the veil of social media. I consider myself to be a lucky Twitter contributor.  I asked Kate why they chose Twitter to find contributors.  She said some of it was timing, but also that they wanted to widen their community and wasn't sure how to do that.  Then realized they had a whole tribe to reach out to online.  I just happened to be the lucky tribe member that day!  

Check out page 40 and 41!
I also asked her why me?  Why someone who teaches in the middle of cornfields in southern Indiana when she knew so many other teachers in other prominent cities?  She said that they already had work from urban and suburban schools and liked the idea that I represented another kind of school.  They wanted to know that the work they were doing would work in most schools, and I helped them to see that.  
Who would have thought that one little tweet would have landed me in this book?  I know it is just a small part, but it certainly created some excitement in our school in this small little town.  And I am extremely grateful that they took a chance on us.

Almost a year ago, at the All Write conference in Warsaw, Indiana, I saw both Kate and Maggie present.  They are phenonimal educators, mentors, and presenters.  At that time, I did not know that two months later I was going to be asked to help them.  I regret not being brave enough to come from behind the veil of social media and meet them face to face.  

Kate and Maggie, hopefully I will get another chance to meet you some day soon.  I will no longer be hiding!

My student's writing!

Monday, June 6, 2016

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki at Unleashing Readers cohost It's Monday! What Are You Reading?  Be sure and stop by to participate or see what others are reading and recommending this week.

It has been such a long time since I have participated in IMWAYR!  But I am happy to share my reading life with you this week.  Hopefully with summer having arrived, I will be able to share more often.

Saving Wonder by Mary Knight

Living in southern Indiana, the coal mining industry is important to many of many students.  When I first read the blurb about this book in Scholastic, I thought it would be a book for many of my students to see connections.  As I read it, it took a turn toward many "big coal" issues that we are faced with today, and I was afraid how my students would react to this.  Many students know that coal is their livelihood and many of their families are currently facing difficult times because of the controversy.  But this book was about so much more than coal.  It was about the power words and how we can use words to accomplish great goals ~ a lesson we could probably all learn from.

Weekends with Max and His Dad by Linda Urban

Max's parents are divorced, and he spends his weekends with his dad.  Adjusting to this new life, he learns that he can have a home with both his mom and his dad.  Many of my students live a life just like Max, and I think this book will help them to understand they are not alone.  This is a perfect book for those 2nd and 3rd grade readers who are ready for chapter books.

Wish by Barbara O'Connor
(I received an ARC of this book from the publisher)

My all time favorite Barbara O'Connor book was How to Steal a Dog...until I read Wish. Charlie and Howard stole my heart. This book is about family, friendship, and hope. But most importantly it is about finding out that what you wish for isn't always what you really want. Wish will make a wonderful read aloud for all ages. 

Maxi's Secrets by Lynn Plourde
(I received an ARC of this book from the publisher)

I am not a dog person.  With that being said, I loved this book, and I loved Maxi!  We learn a secret, or what I prefer to call a lesson, from Maxi with each chapter.  This book is a true love story - between a boy and his dog.  (Chapter 49 is the shortest chapter, but the most powerful lesson of all!)

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Reimagining My Teaching Space

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 reimagining space or decluttering. 

This morning when I received the notification from Margaret about today's writing idea, I also received an email/newsletter from Jennifer Gonzalez at Cult of Pedagogy titled "The Gut-Level Teacher Reflection."  Both ideas have some similarities in reimagining my teaching space. Here is the link to Jennifer's blog post and podcast.  

In this post, Jennifer leads us through questions to help reflect or "reimagine" five areas of our teaching life:  classroom, planning, students, co-workers, and professional practice .  After reading and thinking through the questions, were are asked to identify one or two priorities to change.  She states a change may be turning a negative into a positive or "ambiguities that need more investigation." Finally, we create an action plan which addresses each of the priorities.

Jennifer also suggests that the final step be to share it with a friend.  For me, this exercise is looking at my teaching space and areas that certainly could use some reimagining.  I plan to spend some time with this reflection and will write a follow-up post with my action plan.  I hope that you will check out her website, listen to her podcast, create your own action plan, and join me in reimagining our space.

Friday, June 3, 2016

SPARK Camp - Celebrate #12

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

This week I had the privilege of working with K-5 students at our SPARK (Super Powered Activities to Recharge Kids) camp for high ability kids.  I always teach poetry which I LOVE because many times the creative side of writing is smothered (and sometimes eliminated!) by the gotta-get-em-ready-for-the-test writing.  

This camp is an outlet for those creative students.  My session is hard to compete against drones, Spheros, Ollies, 3D printers, 3Doodlers, and Augmented Reality.  But on the first day when others had technical difficulties, my group "charged" on with good ole paper and pencil!  No, my kids did not fly drones through hula hoops or have races with Ollies and Spheros.  Instead, they created beautiful poems that can be shared with the world.  That is a celebration.

My first session was K-2nd grade, and this was the first year I had kindergartners.  I have to admit, I was a little nervous.  I was not sure what kind of writing to expect from them.  I ended up enjoying this session most of all.  We wrote list poems, color poems, and diamante and then created a gallery in Google slides.  Here is a link if you would like to view the entire gallery.

My second session was with 3rd-5th graders, and several of them were kids I had last summer.  I started out teaching poems which were number related such as haiku, zip ode, fibonacci poetry, and cinquain.  But many of them remembered the word play poems we did last year, and that ended up being what they wanted to write.  Friday we culminated our week with a Skype visit with Laura Purdie Salas. Here is the link to their gallery.

Today I celebrate paper and pencils and poetry!