#Celebratelu & #SOLC17 & #DigiLitSunday: Experimenting with fiction

The Slice of Life March Writing Challenge @ Two Writing Teachers – 31 days of  a writing community.

Celebrate with Ruth Ayres @ ruth ayres writes  …. because we need to celebrate moments in our lives every chance we get.

DigiLit Sunday is hosted by Margaret Simon @ Reflections on the Teche


I have a confession to make.  Although my sixth graders have clamored to write fiction year after year, our enthusiastic forays into  this genre have always ended with a general feeling of dissatisfaction on both sides: I feel as though I have not taught it well, and they feel as though they haven’t written well.

This March, the familiar question of “when do we get to write fiction?” sounded again.  We had just concluded a unit on essay  writing, and were about to get ready for a unit on test prep – a good time, I thought, to answer this burning question once again: can we write fiction in a meaningful, satisfying, but time conscious way?

I thought carefully about all the things that had led to derailment in the past:

*diving into writing fantasy, which often became convoluted storylines that went on, and on, and on…

*not creating clear parameters for my students, so that some were “all done” quickly and others were unable to conclude because their stories had become so complicated

*not setting up a defined timeframe, so that our “creativity” kept stretching on and on (i.e. story lines were going nowhere, and new characters kept popping up for no rhyme or reason).

And I used those lessons to tighten up the plans for this year:

*we would stick to realistic fiction

*we would think about our storylines in a more limited way:

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*we would spend more time planning before writing:

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*we would have three weeks: two to plan, draft, confer, and peer review, and one to revise and publish.

Last Wednesday was publishing day and our writing celebration.  My kiddos created covers for their short stories, and then sat back and enjoyed each others’ creations:

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And I sat back to reflect upon the initial burning question that had set this particular writing into motion: can we write fiction in a meaningful, satisfying, but time conscious way?  The answer, I thought, was a qualified “yes!”.    Here’s what we learned in the process:

*writing fiction is a lot harder than it looks (some were able to develop their storylines well, and some didn’t quite reach the mark – hence the above “qualified”).

*having a plan of action is really important in writing fiction, because it’s so easy to go off on tangents (new characters! sudden happenings!) and so hard to get back on track.

*working within a time frame helps us stick to our plans (more or less).

*we could use our reading strategies (Notice and Note signposts) as writing strategies.

*we will take what we’ve learned and keep experimenting – who knows, but that some of these short stories will one day morph into the long novels that some of my kiddos long to write. I celebrate that!






#CelebrateLu & #digilitchallenge: Milestones


Celebrate with Ruth Ayres @ ruth ayres writes  …. because, we need to celebrate moments in our lives every chance we get!

diglit sunday

DigiLit Sunday was created and is hosted by Margaret Simon@ Reflections on the Teche – join the DigiLit Challenge of the day!

This Sunday, I celebrate the last two weeks of school, and the way my kids have taken ownership of their their learning.  My work is done, and, with the exception of Social Studies, I have stepped back completely.  From the moment they walk in, my kids glance at the “year end in process projects” list on the board to gauge what they need to attend to right away, where they need to prioritize their energies, and where they need to confer with me to clarify a point or two.  The class hums along with a purposeful rhythm – a year of leading my kids to independence and a classroom work ethic is paying off.

 I also celebrate what Margaret invited us to think about this Digilit Sunday: think about digital literacies and transformation.  The rest of today will be spent on Google Classroom, as I read over my students’ multigenre projects, offer comments and suggestions, and enjoy their writing pieces.  Often, a student will   log on even as I am commenting, and that becomes a conversation.  That’s the power of digital literacy.

Finally, I celebrate two milestones: yesterday I  marked my 100th. post for Two Writing Teachers.  Never in my wildest imagination did I think that anyone would care to turn to my writing about teaching as a source of inspiration and advice.  It’s been a wonderful adventure.  And today, I mark my 1,00th. post on my own blog, right here on A Teaching Life. It was a huge step to create an online journal of my teaching life, a place to reflect, collect and try out ideas, and share what I learn.  This blog was really the first step into the incredible world of an online PLN – and it transformed my teaching.   Many of us operate in isolation; it is hard to explain to people outside of the teaching profession that you can work in a building bustling with noise and exploding with people…and still be isolated and a teaching island all to yourself. Blogging, and Twitter, changed that.

#CelebrateLu & #digilitchallenge: A post about celebrating the “now” and the “to come”


Celebrate with Ruth Ayres @ ruth ayres writes  …. because, we need to celebrate moments in our lives every chance we get!

diglit sunday

DigiLit Sunday was created and is hosted by Margaret Simon@ Reflections on the Teche – join the DigiLit Challenge of the day! This week’s DigiLit Challenge is an Invitation. You can create your invitation on the app of your choice.

On this double-duty post (because I love being part of both of these communities…and I am time-challenged these last two weeks of school), I take up Margaret’s challenge to create an invitation to summer.  I used Canva to create this, and a photograph that seemed to contain within it all I celebrate and look forward to this summer :

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Last week was full of completings and startings – all the  projects that become the last weeks of school.  I continue to celebrate the way my kids have embraced learning, so that a few directions and suggestions are all that’s needed from me, and then they’re off and running.

We began our multigenre writing projects, we continued our biography book club projects, and tomorrow we will begin our Civil War projects.  The room is abuzz with talk and laughter, we are at ease in each other’s company and comfortable with the idea that there is work at hand and that it must be attended to.  I celebrate that notion, and hope my kids carry it with them as they leave my classroom on the last day of school.

Even as I drown in grading and all the tasks that must be completed by June 17th., I celebrate the fact that I love my work and my kids, and that I get to live my favorite quote:

“Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” Theodore Roosevelt

Digilit Sundays: Video prompts for the March Slice of Life Classroom Challenge

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Digilit Sunday was created and is hosted by Margaret Simon @ Reflections on the Teche – join us and share your digital teaching ideas!

Margaret Simon offered a beautiful invitation today to join the March Slice of Life Challenge writing community:

If you are not familiar with Slice of Life, it is a month long writing challenge created by Stacey Shubitz of the Two Writing Teachers. I believe, like Stacey, that a teacher of writing must be a writer. We must practice what we preach. The SOL challenge gears up in March. Today is the day to make your commitment. Be sure to go over to the site and sign up. I testify that slicing has changed my life. The daily practice of meeting a blank page and knowing I have a kind, like-minded audience waiting has made me a better teacher and a better writer.

For those of you planning to take the March Challenge with your classroom, I can offer some first hand advice, and I would begin with this: line up some video prompts.  March is a long month, whether you are slicing every day or not – it is the month of standardized tests and no school holidays (not counting snow days, which have become the bane of our teacher existence this endlessly snowy winter).  Slicing every day can lose its novelty for many of our students, and it is up to us (the ones who cheer led them into the Challenge in the first place) to offer something new, something thought provoking, something they will want to write a slice in response to when every molecule of their being is rebelling against the idea of writing another slice.  Here are a few successful  ideas using a variety of video prompts that I have tried out with my sixth graders, I post these as the daily call to slice, and ask students simply to respond with their thoughts and feelings. This open ended invitation seems all that is needed to elicit wide ranging and authentic slices.

1. Video soundscapes, especially ones that center on poetry, such as this one set to Robert Frost:

2. Video clips about how children in other parts of the world go about ordinary tasks that are made extraordinary by circumstances, such as these two:

3. Profiles and portraits about what kids are up to – adventures, exploits, etc., which invite students to ask questions, wonder and respond:


4. Short clips about animal life – my kids love writing about what they learn and wonder about after they’ve watched these:

5. Videos of kids interviewing important people:


6. Music videos, like this one shared at  a Summer Institute at TCRWP, which kids could be asked: what’s the story? what’s the message? what do you think about the  message?

7. Using Wonderopolis to learn about  topics we’ve been perplexed about, are interested in, and affect our lives.  I love slices that beginning with: “I never knew…!” or “How cool that…”, such as this one:


These are just a few examples of using video prompts to add student interest and motivation to the March Challenge.  We hope you’ll join us, and share your own ideas!

Digilit Sunday: Here Comes The New Year!

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Digilit Sunday was created and is hosted by Margaret Simon @ Reflections on the Teche – join us and share your digital teaching ideas!

I’ve finally gotten around to feeling brave enough to experiment with Animoto – here’s one that frames what’s on my mind as I think ahead to being back in school  tomorrow:

Here Comes The New Year!.

Digilit Sunday: Digital learning resolutions for the new year

diglit sunday

Digilit Sunday was created and is hosted by Margaret Simon @ Reflections on the Teche – join us and share your digital teaching ideas!

With just three days to Winter Break, the last Digilit Sunday of the year is the perfect time to take a moment to make some digilit resolutions for the new year:

1. Get more active and organized about our class Twitter page:

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We have just begun to dip our toes into the Twitter world of authors and other classrooms who are just as excited about reading as we are, but I’d like to see us become a bit more organized and consistent about Tweeting and following up on our favorite authors.  Perhaps it’s time to connect with specific classrooms and have Twitter chats about books? Or find more focused ways of interacting with authors? #5bookFriday  (thank you Katie and Kristin!) has become a wonderful new tradition in my classroom, with students book talking 5 books every Friday and inspiring each other to keep our reading enthusiasm going.  But, we could be doing something more! So, that’s a resolution to figure out and work towards.

2. Get going with Google classroom:

At long last, we now have access to Google classroom.  On Tuesday, each of my students will head down to the Media Center to log onto some of the classrooms I’ve set up.  Again, I have no idea how all of this will turn out, but my hope is to make some of our thinking and writing much more interactive through this process.  We have been writing and blogging together since September, Google classroom might be a wonderful way in which to widen our scope and grow even more.

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3. Explore digital writing sites like Animoto and make them viable options for reading responses, book talks, poetry, and much more. Margaret’s post today is exactly what I hope to be working towards in 2015.

4. Experiment with Google Earth and Voice Thread in my Social Studies classes so that our projects become more digital and interactive (and way more cool ).  I would love to be able to flip our classroom so that my kids are designing virtual tours which they can research and present, rather than that role being limited to just me. This is definitely a resolution that my kids will be more than happy to help me meet!

5. Take our Wonderopolis journey one step further. We begin our Wonder Circles after Winter Break – inquiry projects using Wonderopolis.  This would be a fabulous opportunity for my students to experiment with different types of digital tools for their presentations.  I’m thinking that our Google classroom access will really come in handy during this enterprise, so that’s something else to be working on.

Thank you, Margaret, for giving us this weekly chance to share our ideas and become inspired by each others’ spirit of adventure in this amazing, daunting, digital universe. Here’s to another year of learning together!


Digilit Sunday: Looking beyond the comfort of our classroom

diglit sunday

Digilit Sunday was created and is hosted by Margaret Simon @ Reflections on the Teche – join us and share your digital teaching ideas!

Every so often, I use our class writing blog to ask my students to  look beyond the comforts of our classroom and examine what students around the world (as well as in other parts of our own country) experience. YouTube makes it possible to find very brief video clips which make for powerful viewing, thinking, and reflecting.  This is not a research project, or a writing prompt that calls for many paragraphs and very specific requirements.  This is, really, just meant to be a reflective thought shot – a way to get my students to think about the world they live in.  After all, hanging in front of our classroom is this quote from “To Kill A Mockingbird”, when Atticus Finch counsels Scout:

“First of all,” he said, “if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks.  You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view-“


“-Until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

…and I would like my kids to value the experience of being able, in some small way, to do just that.  Here was last week’s post:

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This week’s SOL has to do with going to school. Watch the  videos below sometime this week and then write a slice reflecting upon what it is like for some children around the work to go to school. What did you learn about what school is like for these kids? How do they feel about school? How does your experience contrast or connect?








And here are just a few examples of what my kids thought: 

M: After watching these videos, I realized how thankful I should be for the community we live in and the education we get! We can just easily drive to school, but they can’t and it makes me feel terrible just looking at their faces. They are so scared! These kids have to risk their lives just to go to school! The second video was absolutely heart shattering! These poor children have to climb across rope, sideways, just to get to school. In that video, a girl was so scared she was crying. I also noticed that here, we would say, “I hate school!” but they are passionate about school! They are happy they at least get to go to school. They wouldn’t take the big risk if they didn’t want to. I think it is terrible that they have to go through this, but it is worth it in the end. I can’t imagine what it would be like if a kid fell! That would be absolutely terrible! This is dangerous and now that there are videos about it, people should consider fixing this problem! I thank these kids for being brave. They are heroes!


M: I watched the videos about the kids going to different schools around the world. In the video’s I realized that kids here in the U.S. will say “I hate school”, or ” I never want to go to school”, but the kids in the videos had a passion for school. If I had to go to school climbing a wooden ladder or going across the bridge I would refuse but the kids there think of learning as a special moment. no one would get up in the middle of the night or risk their lives climbing across a bridge or up unstable ladders unless they wanted to. From these videos I learned that some kids have a passion for school and they love it.

T: From the four videos that I watched, I learned that I have to be thankful for the community that I live in, and that I don’t have to risk my life to go to school. These kids have to carry their backpacks, and go to school, in these crazy ways, with not even their parents helping, at such young ages. Most of these kids seemed frightened, and scared, even after they’ve done it a lot of times. The school that goes, at night, and the school that goes on the mountain, seems to really like their school, but the other students from the other schools don’t seem to like their schools.
These schools are different from my school because I don’t have to climb something, or walk across something that’s broken to get to my school, I also don’t have to go to school at night, and luckily my school does have electricity, which I am very lucky for.

All my kids felt that their eyes had been opened to the lives of kids very far away…we had “walked a mile” in our own way, we felt that we had been changed, and writing helped us frame our thoughts and share our reflections.