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 out...you 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 people...you 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!