#sol15:March 5, 2015: Rethinking my OLW



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It’s been a couple of months since I settled on my one little word, the one I chose with such a high-minded sense of purpose and deliberation.

Yesterday, I had to face facts and admit it…I’ve failed at my OLW. Miserably.

There is so much to do and so little time.  Everywhere I turn there is a task to complete, a new one I had signed up for to begin, a poorly completed one to redo.

Focus? What was I thinking?!

When we returned from our PARCC test yesterday, I passed out the candy (yes, I do this, I know I shouldn’t but I do – you can go ahead and report me to the school nurse) and tried to sort out what to focus on in the class time we had left.  So, I went about shuffling papers, pulling out the Social Studies study guide to review, the read aloud to complete, the feature article mini lesson that had been set aside for testing time.  Where to begin? How to get back on track? HOW to focus?

My kids had apparently been watching me circle around and flit between this and that.  When I finally sat down, nowhere closer to making any decisions, a few of them stopped tossing around the tennis balls (the ones that have come off the chair legs and I have been meaning to put back for a couple of weeks now) long enough for one to  say: “Mrs. Smith, you need to chillax.”


Now why didn’t I choose THAT one little word?!


sol#15: March 4: PARCC…testing day one


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The announcement comes over the speaker system, it’s time to make our way to the All Purpose Room – our school’s testing center.  Last week, our ever-thoughtful Vice Principal arranged a tour of this room for all our middle school students.  We know where to go, we know where to sit, we know what to expect.

My kiddos seem cheerful enough on this wintry March morning, and we make our way downstairs to the sounds of chatter and squeaky sneakers.  The room is as expected, and soon every student is settled into a chair and going through the logging process.

Click. Click. Clack.  They are off.

The room seems enormous, and my kids so small in their long rows of laptops, headsets, and endless coils of wires looping over and under tables and chairs.  We are testing together, my morning and afternoon block classes, along with two other sixth grade classes.  So many children, anxiously typing in their passwords and codes,  checking the volume on their headsets, trying to get bodies comfortable in their folding chairs.  I scan the room, making eye contact with all my Smithlings: Thumbs up! You good to go? Awesome!  And then…boom! They  are in the first ELA task, and the test begins. I watch my kiddos settle in.  Slowly, their shoulders relax, and they begin to focus.

Click. Click. Clack.  Shuffling shoes. The room takes on a certain rhythm. It is a long morning of reading, scrolling, cross referencing, and typing.  I walk up and down, up and down.  An hour to go. Then a half hour. And then we are done. Log off protocols, shut down the laptops.

My kids rise from their seats with a clatter, and we make our way back to room 202.  They are hungry, ready for movement and talk.  On their way to our room, they grab snacks from their locker and drinks from the water fountain, and slurp and crunch their way through the door.  Jostling, smiling, making more noise than they really have to, they settle into comfy chairs, sprawl across the reading rug, slouch over desks.  Relief and ease permeates the room – it washes over us in comforting waves.

Day One. Done.

#sol15: March 3, 2015: Billy Collins on 17 year olds



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Yesterday, while cleaning out my office, I found an old steno book, the kind we keep by our phone for lists, phone numbers, and quick notes to each other:

“Hope you had a great time at the cast party! Don’t forget to turn off the porch light.”

“We need milk, coffee, eggs, and Haagen Daz.”

“Walking the dog, can’t find my keys, do NOT lock the door on your way out.”

While tearing out old messages like the above, I paused at this one, addressed to a member of our household who  occupies her room infrequently these days:


which brought to mind the poem Amy Ludwig VanDerwater shared on her  Poem Farm Facebook page yesterday:

How do we ever survive those days with our sanity (more or less) intact??!!

#sol15: March 2, 2015 – Snowball fight to start the day


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We have been  blanketed by another snow storm, and there is yet more snow to dig our way through this cold and bleak Monday morning.  I take no pleasure in the the wintry beauty of the day, not even in Sophie’s delighted antics in the soft snow.   I feel a migraine begin its insistent thrum, and descend further into gloom.  Tugging at Sophie’s leash, I quicken our pace – our walk already seems too long.

As we round the corner, a father and son emerge from their front door.  Shoulders hunched, glowering, they look about as happy as I feel.  “Get in the car, Nicky, we’re gonna be late,” the father calls as he makes his way down the walkway.

Nicky follows, swinging his backpack slowly.  He has no enthusiasm for the day; he had most likely woken up hoping for a snow day.  No dice.  Now there is school … just another regular, very ordinary day at school. I can feel the deep and heavy sigh that seems to be building up as he shuffles along.

Suddenly he pauses, and then I hear, “Dad!” as a perfect snowball arcs its way across the grey sky.

Shouts of laughter follow me as I make my way home, echoing  and bouncing off the piles of snow.  Is it my imagination, or has the sun begun to break through the clouds?

#sol15: March 1, 2015 – The View


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The view from the top of our street is a spectacular one, from it you can see over the expanse of our town and all the way to Manhattan.  I love it, of course, for its grandeur, which is ever-changing with the season and the light.  But I love it most because, for the few minutes our dog Sophie and I pause there every time we take a walk, I feel as though I have my children within sight. The bell tower of our high school peeks through tree tops, the  edge of our town pool glimmers off to one side, and then there are the skyscrapers of Manhattan – uptown, midtown, downtown.

When the children were still at home, I would look out and imagine them in school – at their desks, in their labs, practicing for the latest theatrical venture or choir recital.

For one very special year, when Elizabeth began her graduate studies in Manhattan and both Ben and Olivia were still in school, I could imagine all three busy with this, that or the other as I gazed across the view.

Now, two of them live in the city, and the view remains a place to come to a halt, and to allow myself to think of what they may be doing.  In my mind’s eye, I can see Elizabeth hurrying to a meeting, discovering a new bookstore, or sunning herself in Central Park.   And there is Ben, I can see him catching the subway to his classes, joining friends to play guitar, ducking into a building to escape a sudden downpour.

I love the view…and the idea that, for just a few minutes every day, my children are still somehow within sight.

Gearing up for the PARCC Test: Some practice work

Tara Smith:

Posting on Two Writing Teachers today about preparing for the PARCC:

Originally posted on TWO WRITING TEACHERS:

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On Tuesday, my sixth graders will file into the large testing room our middle school has set up, and begin three days of ELA testing for the PARCC.  The last few weeks have included a steady diet of preparation for this endeavor – the unglamorous, but necessary work of making sure my kids understand the layout and substance of the tasks they will encounter; and how to take a standardized test online (a first for us).  We’ve also spent time trying to figure out how to decode the sometimes clunky PARCC-speak questions, and how to synthesize multiple sources, including videos,  in order to write cogently.  Here, for instance is a sample 6th. grade question:

Writing Prompt You have read a website entry and an article, and viewed a video describing Amelia Earhart. All three include information that supports the claim that Earhart was a brave, courageous person.

The three titles are:…

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Poetry Friday: On the Steps of the Jefferson Memorial – Linda Pastan

Poetry Friday is hosted by Heidi Mordhorst of My Juicy Little Universe


On the Steps of the Jefferson Memorial – Linda Pastan

We invent our gods
the way the Greeks did,
in our own image—but magnified.
Athena, the very mother of wisdom,
squabbled with Poseidon
like any human sibling
until their furious tempers
made the sea writhe.
Zeus wore a crown
of lightning bolts one minute,
a cloak of feathers the next,
as driven by earthly lust
he prepared to swoop
down on Leda.
Despite their power,
frailty ran through them
like the darker veins
in the marble of these temples
we call monuments.
Looking at Jefferson now,
I think of the language
he left for us to live by.
I think of the slave
in the kitchen downstairs.
I love this poem and think of it often as I’m exploring history with my sixth graders, who are endlessly fascinated by questions and wonderings such as “but what was he really like?” or “how did they really feel about this?”  These questions, of course, are exactly what make teaching history and learning about history so interesting…and so much fun.