Saturday, January 28, 2017

Celebrate 2017 (Four)

Each week Ruth Ayres extends an invitation to share our celebrations. 

When I chose RISE as my one little word for 2017 and marked January as the month to embrace challenges, I had no idea the early impact they would have on my life.

Two days after I announced it the world, I received a phone call from my sister.

"I have cancer."

She didn't know much about the lab report other than those words.  

So the wait began.  

I went with her to the appointment where she received some optimistic news.  The initial lab report looked like it was stage 0.  (I didn't even know there was a stage 0.) She scheduled her surgery for the following week.

And we waited again.

The surgery went well (even after she and her doctor got the flu that weekend) and she received the lab report this week.  It was a very small tumor and all of the margins were clear, which means the tissue surrounding the tumor were clear of cancer cells.  

The news we were hoping for.  Now, she has several weeks of radiation and again, some more waiting.  But for now, we will celebrate!

Thank you all for your thoughts and prayers...even when you didn't know exactly what you were praying for.  You knew something was going on, and your kind words were much appreciated.  

I don't want this to sound like a PSA, but if you, or someone you know, do not get regular mammograms, please make an appointment soon.  I know my sister's cancer was caught through early detection which played an important part in her story.

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

Friday, January 27, 2017

Poetry Friday ~ Hope

Welcome to Poetry Friday.  I am "embracing challenges" by participating in this weekly community of all things poetry. Please join Carol at Beyond Literacy Link for this week's poetry round-up.

I just finished reading a debut novel by Ruth Behar, Lucky Broken Girl.  Ruthie, the main character is involved in an accident and has to be in a body cast for almost an entire year. Ruthie's struggle is based on the author's own experience as a "broken" child.

After Ruthie's cast is removed, she begins physical therapy.  At the clinic she meets a soldier who has lost a leg and is learning how to walk with a prosthesis, a factory worker who has severely injured her hand, and an elderly lady who fell in the shower and broke a hip.  Ruthie's therapist, Jessica, tells her,

"Don't lose hope."  

Because Ruthie is a reader and aspiring writer, she recalls Emily Dickinson's poem "'Hope' is the thing with feathers" each time Jessica tells her this.

As she looks around the clinic at all the heartbreak and suffering, she sees hope.
I found inspiration in Ruthie's struggle and in her courage, and I find the same in Dickinson's poem.  

We must keep hope deep in our souls and listen to its song during times of brokenness and in the midst of our own personal storms.  Where there is hope, we also find promise and peace, courage and healing.

May you find some "hope" as you read Dickinson's words today.

"Hope" is the thing with feathers ~ Emily Dickinson

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Thank You, ALA Youth Media Awards

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

I have been in the Twitterverse for several years now, although I was a latecomer.  I remember my first winter of tweeting.  We had several snow days in the middle of my obsession stage.  I was hooked.  I was addicted.  

I loved finding and following like-minded, positive people who shared all things literacy.  Literacy is the only reason I tweet.  Twitter has changed my teaching life because of the connections I have made with other teachers around the world who share a common passion.  The connections I have made are invaluable, and I wish more of my colleagues would join.

But that has all changed lately.  The majority of my Twitter feed is no longer filled with literacy links, book recommendations, blog posts with great teaching ideas, or inspirational messages for it used to be.  

I miss it.

Now it seems as if I have to sift through so much negativity just to find the positive.

It drains me.

I have always believed that one must surround themselves with positive people.

I still do.  

Today was one of those days surrounded by positive people.  My Twitter feed was filled with tweets about the ALA Youth Media Awards.  Congratulating winners and sharing titles of winning books and pictures of librarians and teachers and authors celebrating our shared passion - the love of reading.

For one day, I was able to pause and once again, experience that excitement about literacy.

Thank you, ALA Youth Media Awards, for placing a breath fresh air back into my Twitter feed.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Balancing Goals and Needs

Today I am participating in Digital Learning Sunday with Margaret Simon at Reflections on the Teche.  This week Margaret has encouraged us to share our thoughts on balancing goals and needs.

When I first saw this topic, I began thinking about my own personal goals and needs. Trying to balance these can be quite tricky.  

As I was grading this weekend, my thoughts turned to my students' goals and needs, which many times are more out of balance than my own.

I began thinking about the goals which are set for students - those "standardized" goals.  Reach this benchmark, pass this test, achieve this score.  These are goals set by others who do not consider their individual needs - only passing a test.

Many of us have students whose achievement levels are well below grade level. Some of my students walked through the door of my classroom at the beginning of the year and could not write a complete a sentence or read grade level texts.  This is no fault of their previous teachers because I know how hard they work to move these students forward.  But the gap still exists.

Teaching at the middle school level, I began to understand just how wide this gap is. When I think how I could balance goals with the needs of these students, three big ideas have emerged for me this year.

Meet them where they are. This is a difficult thing to do.  Because of the pressure of "the test", many teachers teach to the middle students, leaving behind those students at the top and at the bottom.  Through assessments, we must find what students can do and what they can almost do, and use this data to set goals for them and move them forward.

Focus on growth.  I know I have students who will never pass a standardized test, no matter how many interventions, programs, or master teachers we put into place.  This isn't being negative, it is being realistic.  Because of this reality, I have learned to focus on growth. They may not be a standardized student, but I will do everything I can to help them become a growing student.  Thankfully, my administration understands and encourages the growth mindset.

Different students, different goals.  My students come to me with different levels, different needs, and different experiences.  I must tailor their goals to fit their needs, not fit into a box.

We recently finished up a unit on writing argument.  Looking at the three ideas I stated above, I can see how I have tried to balance their goals with their needs.  I cannot expect them to write at grade level standards...yet.

Reading their writing, I see the growth from the beginning of the year.  I can see how they have now created paragraphs when they could barely write a sentence. I can see the structure of an argument with a stated claim and reasons.  I can see more complex sentence structures.  

I can see growth.  I can see the balancing of their goals with their needs.  

No, it is not easy.  But it is something we must all strive to do. 

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Forward Motion ~ Celebrate 2017 (Three)

Each week Ruth Ayres extends an invitation to share our celebrations. 

When I chose my one little word for 2017, I created a monthly theme to accompany it. January was "Embrace Challenges."  Little did I know at the time, my personal life would test this.  But I chose embrace challenges because I knew a student, was returning to my classroom from our alternative education classroom.

I wrote about this student in another celebration post earlier in the year.  Each day with "B" brings a different set of challenges.  Will he cooperate?  Will he work? Will he act out? But each day I push forward.  

Many days it is one step forward, two steps back.

When we insist on dwelling in the backward motion, we reject embracing the challenges and increase the potential for failing our students.  

Yes, there are days when the rythym of my breathing is "ignore, ignore, ignore...push forward."  But it is this forward motion that grounds my belief in "B".   

Late this week we made a step forward, and I solicited some help from other teachers to support him.  A colleague, Mr. K., sent me a picture of this student reading (which he has refused to do all week) in his classroom.  Along with the picture, he sent these words:

"We never give up in our quest." 

Mr. K. is also a teacher who believes in relationships, who believes in forward motion, and who believes in this student.  I am lucky to have him as a colleague.

Yes, we may have many bad days; but it is those in-between moments, along with teachers who believe in celebrating forward motion, that I must hang on to. If not, I will fail those students who need me most.  And I refuse to fail.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Fake vs. Real News

Today I am participating in Digital Learning Sunday with Margaret Simon at Reflections on the Teche.  This week Margaret has encouraged us to share our thoughts on fake vs. real news.

When Margaret gave her plan for this month, and I read the topic, fake vs. real news, I didn't think I would have much to contribute. This is such an important topic in today's classrooms, but I have yet to really tackle it with my students.  

I always begin our research unit with lessons on how to evaluate websites.  It is a lesson plan from Common Sense Education and Teaching Channel where students evaluate websites using an extensive set of criteria.  I know these lessons open their eyes as to what sources they can trust and what makes a website reliable, but there is so much more to teach.  With the recent overwhelming amount of fake news in the media, teachers are scrambling to not only educate themselves, but to also find lessons, resources and ideas to teach media literacy, especially the discernment of fake and real news.  

After researching, reading, and learning, I have curated a list of links and sources that will hopefully encourage teachers to begin tackling this issue.  

I suggest you begin with a recent study by Standford researchers on "civic online reasoning" by middle, high school and college students.  They state that "Overall, young people's ability to reason about the information on the Internet can be summed up in one word:  bleak."  You can read their findings and see samples of their assessments here. The students' responses are interesting, yet disturbing, but I think they also would reflect the thoughts and reasoning skills of my students.

Website Dedicated to News Literacy

The News Literacy Project is a nonprofit organization that "works with educators and journalists to teach middle and high school students how to sort fact from fiction in the digital age."  I am still sifting through their website, but I have enjoyed reading their teachable moments section on their blog which takes news stories and shows how you can use turn them into "teachable moments."  Below is a video from their website.

Article for Students

Real news reports on fake news people try to figure out the difference by Newsela

Articles to get the thinking started.

How to Spot Fake News (and Teach Kids to Be Media-Savvy) and Teaching Kids Media Smarts During Breaking News by Comon Sense Media

Battling Fake News in the Classroom by Edutopia

Who Stands Between Fake News and Students?  Educators by NEA Today

10 Ways to Spot Fake News by EasyBib

Lesson plans and teaching ideas for middle to high school students.

Hoax or No Hoax?  Strategies fro Online Comprehension and Evaluations by ReadWriteThink

How to teach your students about fake news by PBS Newshour Extra

News Literacy:  Critical-Thinking Skills for the 21st Century by Edutopia

Teachers no longer teach just reading, writing, and arithmetic.  Fake news is in our world and in our classrooms.  We must teach media literacy and give our students the skills needed to navigate this media-driven society in which they live.

How are you helping your students to develop media literacy skills?  I would love to hear your ideas and for you to share them in the comments section below.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Words ~ Celebrate 2017 (Two)

Each week Ruth Ayres extends an invitation to share our celebrations. 

The phone rings.

I hear her words, 
that are never expected, 
 always unwanted.

Then I wait and wait.  

I pray for words, 
she wants to hear.

And I wait and wait.

He says words,
that make us think 
she is going to be fine.

I celebrate for a moment...

And now I wait for more...
more words
to come.

"Stage 0" ~ small words, yet still a celebration.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Poetry Friday ~ Persimmon Predictions

Welcome to Poetry Friday.  I am "embracing challenges" by participating in this weekly community of all things poetry. Please join Keri at Keri Recommends for this week's Poetry Friday Round-Up.

We have three persimmon trees near the edge of our property.  When we built our house, these gnarly looking trees remained standing.  When my children were little, we picked up the ripe persimmons from the ground, shook the trees to make some fall, and made our own pulp for persimmon pudding.  This process is quite messy and takes many persimmons and hard work to make the pulp.  Might be the reason we only did this a handful of times.

Early this week, the few remaining persimmons were holding on and holding out for winter's wrath.  After a windstorm today, the trees are now bare and the critters are having a feast of leftovers on the ground.  Looking at the seeds on the ground reminded me of one of nature's weather forecasting methods - cracking open the persimmon seeds.  

If we see a spoon - expect shovels of snow.  

If we see a knife - expect cutting, cold winds.

If we see a fork - expect a mild, warm winter.

An ice storm is on its way as I write this.  May all of you in its path be safe.  Let us hope the weather folklore was not a knife.  (Personally, all I ever see are spoons!)

Monday, January 9, 2017

A Letter to Writing Teachers Who Don't Write

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

This week I was to present a PD on teachers as writers.  Although it was canceled due to a lack of participants, I will continue to advocate for the importance of walking the talk.  I know how much being a teacher who writes has changed my classroom, and I want others to reap the benefits too.  

Below is a letter I wrote to those "would be" participants and all writing teachers who have not yet found the benefits of being a teacher who writes.

Dear Writing Teachers,

Today was my day to share one of my passions with you - writing.  Unfortunately, it was canceled due to a lack of participants.

I can honestly say I understand.  Budgets are tight and money designated for PD is typically used for one-size-fits all, not personalized professional development tailored to each teacher's needs or passions.

I didn't have a program that guaranteed better test scores.  I didn't have a product that was a quick prep for the spring standardized tests. And I didn't have a technology tool that would engage your students tomorrow.

But if you would have been at my workshop, you would have learned how your teaching of writing could change simply because - you write.  

You would have gained confidence in your own writing which leads to competence in your teaching of writing.  

You would have understood that teachers who write increase their level of credibility in the eyes of their students, which in turn leads to increased learning.  

And you would have become a part of a writing community and realized the importance of that support.

I have always been a writer.  I have been a writing teacher for ten years.  But I became a teacher writer five years ago, and what a difference that has made in my teaching and for me and my students.

Because I write:
  • I understand the fear of a blank page.  
  • I look beyond conventions and celebrate my students' words.   
  • I believe feedback is more than a letter grade.
  • I now teach writing, not assign it.
  • I realize writing is hard.
  • I know my story matters.
  • I am a better teacher.
I am sorry I did not get the opportunity to write with you today.  I hope that some day you discover the difference between being a writing teacher and a teacher who writes. 

And I hope that some day our paths - and our words - may cross.

Leigh Anne Eck

Friday, January 6, 2017

Cherishment ~ Celebrate 2017 (One)

Each week Ruth Ayres extends an invitation to share our celebrations. 

Photo by Leslie Ann

My one little world for this year has many dimensions to it.  I have such big plans in 2017 for this word.  One of them is celebrating the people who help me to rise, and who have influenced and inspired my writing life.  One of those people is Margaret Simon at Reflections on the Teche.

When I visit her small space in the world and read her words, I stand in awe of her brilliance as a writer.  Her words give me hope; they bring me joy; they encourage and inspire me, and they allow me to rise as a person and as a writer. 

As I was reading about her one little word, cherish, I was once again reminded of the impact her words have had on me since I have "met" her.  I told her that her words give me "cherishment" - a step above inspiration.  

But it is so much more than that.

Inspiration is creating a positive or creative feeling in someone. 

But "cherishment" is when you feel a movement, a stirring that is so deep, it can only be felt with the soul. 

I know I am not the only one who cherishes Margaret's words.  I took comments  from her readers and weaved them together in this celebration poem.


You are magical
born to weave words
a master of inspiration 
we are your benefactors

your care and attention you bring to life
capture the joy
awaken my senses

your sentimental ways
your desire to help others
tells a story of your heart

I am in awe of your way with words
you give your words so freely and abundantly
you teach us too, with your gentle example
your “Melody” fills my spirit

magic is always here
the world will be better
for your poetry is in it

Thank you Margaret, for feeding us and nourishing us through your words.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Poetry Friday ~ Sparkling Silence

Happy New Year, and Happy Poetry Friday.  I am new to this community, as I have only contributed one time, and those were student poems.  My One Little Word for 2017 is Rise, and in January I am rising to "Embrace Challenges."  What better way to challenge myself than to share poetry once a week.  

Mother Nature blessed us today with our first snow of the year.  As my daughter and I pulled out of the driveway this morning, our inaugural tracks led the way down the deserted street.  The snow glistened as the beams from our headlights lit our way.  A beautiful, undisturbed sight that only a snowfall can provide.

I told my daughter, "Look at the diamonds."  I only wish I had stopped for a picture.

Mother Nature
under the cover of darkness 
bequeaths a gift 
of sparkling silence

©Leigh Anne Eck, 2017 

Join the Poetry Friday Round Up with Linda over at Teacher Dance.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Books in Boxes - #MustReadin2017

Being part of several reading communities rewards me with many book recommendations, sometimes too many.  This past year has been no different.  It is time to reflect on what was read in 2016 and round up those books that we didn't read because 2017 came too quickly.  I am joining Carrie Gelson of There's A Book For That, and many other bloggers to create my Must Read in 2017 List.  

I keep several boxes and stacks of books at my house.  My TBR boxes.   Most of these boxes contain books that I want to read before I hand them over to my students. When too much time goes by, new books are purchased, or boxes are overflowing, I begin to purge the stacks.  As I was purging during my Christmas break, I pulled out the ones I truly wanted to read in 2017.  These are the books that will stay with me just a little bit longer before I take them to school.

So here is my #MustReadin2017 list:


I have been trying to stock my classroom library with nonfiction for upper grade levels. I brought many lower to middle grade books with me when I moved to 6th grade, but needed to think about titles for middle school readers.  I recently had a Donor's Choose project of nonfiction books funded, so I have added two of those titles to my list.

The Boys Who Challenged Hitler by Phillip Hoose
The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

2016 Nerdies

Several books in my boxes were awarded a Nerdy this year.  (I must have good taste...just not enough time!)  Here are three titles that made my list.

As Brave As You by Jason Reynolds
The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork
Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

2015 Nerdies

And several books in my boxes were awarded a Nerdy in 2015.

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard
All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman

A Little Help from My Friends

Many books I own received some type of book love by my reading friends, or else I would not have purchased them.  These books in the boxes fall into this category.

Summerlost by Ally Condie
Mayday by Karen Harrington
Save Me a Seat  by Sarah Weeks
OCDaniel by Wesley King


Last but not least, I am in a group of middle grade teachers who receive ARCs from various authors and publishers.  We read the books, talk about them on social media and blogs, and then share them with each other.  This group has brought a new perspective to my reading life.  It is fun  receiving books in the mail filled with their thoughts written on sticky notes and tear-dried stains.  I received this ARC back in the summer, and it has now made it to my #mustreadin2017. (I want avoid being kicked out by my relay team!)

Lucky Broken Girl by Ruth Behar Read 1/27

I know many of these books will make it out of my boxes and will be replaced with 2017 books. This coming year looks to be a great year for reading.  Follow along with us and mark your calendars for these updates on our progress.

Spring update: Thursday April 6th, 2017
Fall update: Thursday September 7th, 2017
Year end update: Thursday December 28th, 2017
Thank you for being a part of this community. You all make my reading experiences so much richer!

Happy Reading!