Friday, June 30, 2017

Walking on the Boundaries of Change ~ #PoetryFriday

It's Poetry Friday, and  Diane has the round-up at Random Noodling.

One of my goals when I return to school this fall (or in less than five weeks!) is for students to read, write, and talk every day.  In order to reach that goal, I have been searching for poems and other short texts to read for quick writes.  

In my search I came across Walking on the Boundaries of Change by Sara Holbrook. This is a perfect collection of poems for middle school students who are trying to figure out who they are, who and what is important, and where they are headed.

Because I live in the midwest, many of the poems are not applicable to my students, but they open the world to them and help them to realize other kids are going through the same problems and experience the same emotions.

I have already marked several poems for quick writes, but this will be my first one.  

Walking on the Boundaries of Change

Day by day
a tightrope,
walking on the boundaries
of change.
One step--
firm, familiar,
the next step--
shaky, strange.

Some friends
will dare danger,
mock or push each step.
Some friends 
knock your confidence.

Real friends
form a net.

~ Sara Holbrook

My 6th graders come in trying on new friendships.  Some times each day brings a new friend, a new enemy.  But in time, they will figure it all out, and I will be there listening, drying tears, sharing smiles and catching them when they fall from the tightrope.  

That's the beauty of teaching middle schoolers.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017


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

I am in the midst of two milestones.  I wrote my 500th post on Sunday, and four years ago next week, I wrote my first slice of life. 

Little did I know how writing about
milk jugs would change my life.  
  • I have met and connected with some wonderful people, not only in the blogosphere, but also face to to face.  
  • I understand how my students feel in the writing process.  I understand their struggles of a blank page, and I understand their celebration for having written. No greater feeling exists than to put down the pen and say, "This is a pretty good piece of writing."
  • I have become an advocate for teacher writers.  My writing instruction is so much stronger because I write. I want other teachers to understand this connection too.
  • I see the importance of story.  Our lives are made up of stories; we just need to open our eyes and our hearts and our notebooks.
  • I have become brave.  I have written about topics close to my heart.  I have shared my passion, and I have stood up for what I believe in the best interests of my students.
  • I have become a better writer. We tell our students that they become better readers and writers through practice.  Well, that works the same for adults.
  • This space has become a catalyst for opportunity.  I have presented at conferences. I have taken my writing beyond this space.  And I know many more opportunities are within my grasp.
These are just a few reflections today, but I know there are many more.

So thank you Two Writing Teachers, my readers, and my friends, for introducing me to this writing community, encouraging me to continue, and letting me share a day in my life as a teacher, a reader, and a writer.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Take-Forward #allwrite17 Reflection One

When I attend a conference I take with me several goals:  rejuvenation, learning, take-aways, and take-forwards. This week I attended the All Write Conference in Warsaw, Indiana.  I want to share with you a take-forward, or something I know I am going take and implement in my classroom this fall.

The "Lee Anns" and my new friend Chiper photobombing behind me.
I had the honor of meeting Lee Ann Spillane on day one at the opening keynote by Lester Laminack.  I first "met" Lee Ann online through blogging and Twitter, and I knew she was presenting at this conference.  She walked in and sat in the front row.  I knew by her glasses that it was her, so I introduced myself.  We went to a few sessions together that day, and she had dinner with us that night.  She is a true delight!

On day two I attended her session, "Blueprints of a Lifetime" and want to share one of two take-forwards.

Sentence Completions

On the first day of school, Lee Ann has students do sentence completions. This is a form with a sentence starter, and the students add their thoughts to complete the sentence.  That night she reads each and every one of them and adds comments, questions, and book recommendations.  This is a great getting to know you activity, but oh, so much more.

Why I Like this Idea

  1. Many of us use some type of reading survey to learn about student interests and their view of reading and writing. This is a survey but also a formative assessment.  
    • Can the student write a complete sentence?
    • Can the student use punctuation correctly?
    • Do they like to read and write?
    • What kind of books do they like?
  2. Knowing our students' interests makes it easier to recommend books.  Several of these questions give us an insight into their likes and dislikes. I can immediately make a first book recommendation right on their survey.  It sets the tone that "reading is important in this classroom, and I am here to help you find the perfect book."
  3. Responding back to students that first day tells the students that they matter.  It is the beginning of establishing those positive relationships and building a literacy community right from the start, which we all know is so important.  
Student/teacher Letters

The second day the students receive a letter from the teacher and are asked to reply.  This is an extension of the sentence completions.  

Why I Like this Idea
  1. We always do a baseline writing. In the past, it has been some type of writing prompt, and the students moan and groan.  My students come from a prompt writing environment (that's for another time, another post).  I plan to use this letter as my baseline writing sample.  Through this letter, I can receive the same data I would get from a prompt; only the students should be more engaged because they are writing and telling me about themselves.
  2. Again - data!  The letter takes the sentence completions a step forward, and we are able to see more of their writing and use it as formative assessment.
    • Can they write in paragraphs?
    • What kind of vocabulary do they have?
    • Can they use different types of sentence structures?
    • Can they clearly write and organize their thoughts and ideas?
    • Can they write with descriptive details?
    • Do they use correct grammar?
  3. I can use this writing sample to help set their first writing goals (another post coming up) and put it in their writing wallets (another post coming up). 
Lee Ann has written several blog posts about these two ideas.  If you want to read more, you can go here and here and her blog Portable Teacher. You will also find a copy of the sentence completions that Lee Ann has so graciously shared with readers.

Next post I will share with you another take-forward from Lee Ann's session:  using a blueprint to generate narrative ideas.

Hope to see you back tomorrow!

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Burnout, Passion, and Purpose ~ Celebrate 2017 (sixteen)

Each week Ruth Ayres extends an invitation to share the celebrations from our week.  Why don't you join the celebration?

This week marks the half-way point in my summer vacation. (No, that is not my celebration!)  I have to admit I became a little nervous at the end of the school year.

This was my tenth year of teaching, and for the first time I experienced a new set of feelings.  I didn't have to hold back tears as I said goodbye.  I was ready for this year to be over about the same time I turned the calendar page to March. I even counted down the days.

This was unfamiliar territory for me, and the b-word began to slip into my thinking. Burnout. I made it past the five year mark, the one that seems to be the high water mark for teachers.  What was wrong with me?

The first week of the summer I was a teacher at our SPARK camp, and I had a camper tell me that her cousin told her that I was mean.

Those words stung.

Had I lost my passion for teaching?  Did I forget my purpose?

Luckily, I found my answer this week at the All Write Conference.  And that answer is a firm no.

The theme of the conference was:  Reclaiming Purpose and Passion.  I surrounded myself with teachers who share their passion.  I listened to experts in the field and frantically wrote and tweeted their bits of inspiration.  I mentally tucked ideas in my head that I can't wait to implement this fall (or in about five weeks!)  I felt that excitement of learning as a teacher and the desire to share that learning with others.

I reclaimed my purpose and passion.

Here are just a few quotes I took away. 

"We need our teaching to be deep and slow like a river.  We need to slow down for teaching to sustain the learner."

"Students need mirrors, windows, and doorways.  They need to see some piece of them in us."

"We seek communion with those who understand us best."

"Love yourself enough to stand up for what is best for children."
~ Lester Laminack

"I don't think anyone of us truly gets how important we are in the lives of students." 
~ Ruth Culham

"We need to remember the meaning of what we do."

"Our jobs get hard when we forget about our purpose."

"When teachers tell the stories of the impact they make, everyone benefits."
~ Lee Snider

"...investing in the lives of children. I can think of no better way to make the world more beautiful."
~ Ruth Ayres

Take time this summer to ignite your passion for teaching and to remember your purpose. 

Reclaim it and yes, celebrate it!

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Remember the Stories ~ Celebrate 2017 (fifteen)

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

I recently read an article and an obituary in our Catholic newspaper.  I didn't know the man, but here is what I learned about him.  He loved his family and friends.  He shared his deep faith with those around him.  He was a dedicated and beloved teacher.  And he was loved in return.

Because of his illness, he was able to write his own obituary. It wasn't your typical obituary which listed his survivors and his accomplishments in life. Instead, it was a letter to those he left behind.  In his words, he reminded them to "Remember the stories." 

These words have lingered with me.

This week I have been spending time with my Grandma who has Dementia. Her caregivers, my mom and aunts, are taking a much needed vacation. I sit with her, hold her loving, wrinkled hands in mine, and remember the stories.  

I know she doesn't know who I am, but I know she knows I belong to her.  Her face lights up and the tension and agitation releases in her body when she sees me.  She kisses my cheek and tells me she loves me. We sit together, and the words she remembers how to speak become our conversation. It may be just bits and pieces, but they are still her stories.

It is hard for her.

It is hard for me.  

Several times I have had to hold back the tears.  It just isn't fair.  But it is a reminder of why I write:  to remember the stories of my own life.  I am afraid I will travel down the same path, and I won't remember my stories. Writing our story is the inscription of our lives.  It is the gift we leave behind. Inscriptions may become worn, but they remain.  Just like our stories.

It is also a reminder of why it is important that we teach the power of story to our students. I wrote stories at a young age, and I had many teachers who encouraged me to write. Today, many students think of writing as something we do just at school. Many students write only for their teacher or for a standardized test.  But they have many stories to tell, with many still unwritten.  We must help them to understand the power of stories.  We must help them to write for those they love and for those who love them.

It is difficult for young students to imagine themselves as being old like the man in the obituary and like my grandma.  It is difficult for them to think about the stories they will live to tell.  Teaching our students to remember the stories (and to write them) as young children, is a simple celebration and a gift we must give them.