#celebratelu & #DigiLit Sunday:Classrooms are for relationships, too

#DigiLitSunday is hosted by Margaret Simon @ Reflections on the Teche.  

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

We had an interesting week last week; I was sick and many of my kids were also sick – a visitor to our classroom would have heard coughing and sneezing aplenty, and we went through boxes and boxes of tissues.  On Monday, halfway through the day, I scanned through my lesson plan book and wondered how much we would be able accomplish given the way we were carrying on in Room 202.

But, we carried on.  Each day, my kiddos and I showed up, we acknowledged how rotten most of us were feeling, and then we got on with the business of learning: preparing for a Social Studies unit test, completing the first drafts of our essays, participating in book clubs, and beginning a unit of short story writing.  It was a busy week, yet day after day, we were there for each other.  And, each day, we gave each other our best shot at whatever task was at hand.  At the end of each day, I was too exhausted to think beyond just being grateful that we had not wasted any learning time.  On Friday, however, as my kiddos took their test and I fielded questions and offered little hints about how to manage time, I finally had the time to reflect (and marvel at) what we’d accomplished during this difficult week…and why we were able to do so.

Relationships.  Merriam Webster defines the word with other words such as kinship, relatedness, and connection.  Relationships are fundamental to all we seek to do in our classroom – without that, without being able to trust that we will all show up and give the best of ourselves (well, most of the time) no matter what, the content of what we teach becomes dry, removed, passion-less.  Relationships allow us to learn in spite of feeling under the weather, and even (at times) uninspired.  And relationships grant us permission to be kind to each other so that we can all make it through each learning day in the most positive, constructive way.

On Friday, I celebrated relationships in our classroom:

We made gifts of winter poems for our pen pals at an assisted living facility in upstate New York, in response to their Valentine’s Day cards:

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We allowed ourselves to get carried away and silly, too:

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We welcomed alumni from years past:


We shared book talks and book love:

We left for our February Break needing rest, but feeling good.







For #celebratelu and #DigiLitSunday: My OLW for 2017


#DigiLitSunday is hosted by Margaret Simon @ Reflections on the Teche.  

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

It’s that time of year again for many of us teacher-bloggers: the time to choose our very own “one little word” – the word we will reach for and seek comfort in, the word we hope distills the best of our wishes and aims in the year ahead.  Just. A. Little. Pressure.  And why?  Because, as Ruth said in the video she sharedour OLW is the word we choose to live with (whether we know it when we choose it or not).  Sometimes the journey to one’s OLW is easy – it just appears and is immediately perfect, and sometimes it’s an agonizing journey – so many shiny and “just right” words to choose from!


This year, I rummaged around in my imaginary word file (the one in which I save likely OLWs) all winter break long, and came up short each time.  At the Concert for Peace last night, standing in front of the Peace Tree and thinking ahead to what is likely to be a year of unrest and fear, it occurred to me that this year’s word was one I was feeling the least, deep down in my heart:


In the larger world, I need to believe that my role as a citizen counts, that my participation matters.  The next four years will bring many challenges to the very fabric of our society, for much of the progress we’ve made as a country stands to be swept aside by  a reactionary and malevolent new administration.  I need to consider that my participation and activism can make a difference…I need to believe.

In my classroom, I need to believe that I can make a difference in the lives of the children I am responsible for.  Sometimes, this is hard to do…and sometimes, this just feels impossible to do.  Teaching never flows in one straight, easy to navigate line: there are stops and starts, false starts, unexpected detours, roadblocks and speed bumps.  And sometimes, even though there is a reliable GPS on hand (for me, that would be my 16 years of teaching experience), one gets lost.  I need to hold fast to the notion that the work we do in our classroom, the investment of time and effort in building a rich learning environment, is our Northstar – we may seem swerve and stop and slow down, but the journey itself is grounded and true.

And, as a writer, I simply need to believe that I have have something of value to say.  All too often, especially in the past few months, I’ve turned away from writing anything because I have felt that nothing I wrote felt fresh and new; I’ve felt as though I’ve been circling around the same ideas in the same way, and what’s the point in that?  I realize, of course, that this is just a convenient excuse not to go through the worthwhile struggle that is the writing life.  I need to believe that I can still find a way to write about what I’ve learned, thought about, and imagined.

So…my one little word for 2017 has arrived at last: believe.


Poetry Friday:At the Beginning of Winter by Tom Hennen

Poetry Friday is hosted by Tabatha Yeatts @ The Opposite of Indifference

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Winter has arrived, and with ferocity.  The trees are all bare now, the lawns are brown, and the piles of leaves waiting for the last pick up are brittle and spent.  Today, the wind howled around every corner, and a snow squall took us by surprise just before lunch.   It is time to reach for the warmest coat even for a quick walk to fetch the morning paper.  And, of course, it is dark for most of the day – sun shine passes quickly.  We are never really ready for winter…even in December…

At the Beginning of Winter by Tom Hennen

In the shallows of the river
After one o’clock in the afternoon
Ice still
An eighth of an inch thick.
Night never disappears completely
But moves among the shadows
On the bank
Like a glimpse of fur.
Flies and spiderwebs
Appear alone in the flat air.
The naked aspens stand like children
Waiting to be baptized
And the goldenrod too is stripped down
To its bare stalk
In the cold
Even my thoughts
Have lost their foliage.

#DigiLit Sunday: Working on those craft moves as student and teacher


#DigiLitSunday is hosted by Margaret Simon @ Reflections on the Teche.  Today, Margaret asks us to think about craft.

I’ve been working with a student I’ll call Jason since the very first day of school on many things: reading, writing, conducting himself in a classroom, and simply “doing school”.  We are making progress, little by little – which is the way of learning in middle school, where teachers have to be willing to accept this truth: your students are only capable of engaging half of their brain power when it comes to “doing school”, the other , and more insistent half, is engaged in “doing life” – middle school life, to be exact.  Which is its own overwhelming thing, and often requires the attention of all the brain, regardless of what the teacher hopes for.

Jason is a natural story teller; he’s great fun to watch and listen to because he puts his entire body into his story telling – demonstrating action, creating the voices, using props he can find among our classroom stuff.  This is wonderful, of course, but there is the writing aspect to writing workshop to consider, and this is where Jason and I run into difficulties.  Here is where the oral telling of the story (which can occasionally meander and be a bit stream of consciousness-y) meets some of the restrictions of the pencil and paper.  Here is where the discipline and craft of writing must come to terms with the imagination.  Here is where Jason and I are still figuring things out and trying to find a path to craft.

Take this personal narrative which Jason turned in.  It was late.  Very late.  And this was also the third iteration of this particular narrative.  Jason and I sat down to confer, and he seemed happy with what he’d done, and how he’d improved upon his previous drafts.  So he began to read his work aloud, highlighting the first sentence because we had determined in the previous conferences that that would be his focus (not the entire week).  But, as Jason read, the enthusiasm in his voice slowly began to diminish. When we came to the end, he asked me to put an “X” across the page…BORING!

fullsizerender-4It bothered him, he said, that he had lost his small moment somewhere along the way.  Part of me was bothered, too.  We had worked on identifying small moments since September, here it was December, and those small moments were still hard to pin down and write about.  Also, to be perfectly frank, I was utterly done with Jason’s summer holiday as a topic (boring!) but Jason was not – he was determined to write about this vacation.

But, a part of me was celebrating: Jason had come to understand on a deep level what a small moment sounded like (which is why he was bothered by his piece), and he also knew that it was important to care about his topic (which is why he held on to this vacation as his seed idea no matter how many times we had to visit it).

Jason understood two key facets to the craft of writing…he just needed to work his way towards being able to do this himself. We were moving along the writing journey, slowly but surely.

So, we talked through his piece, and Jason decided that the lost small moment in it was the last day there with his grandfather, and three things they did together that he wanted to commemorate by writing about…writing well about.   This, too, took some more talking through and breaking down from generalities (we had breakfast)  to specifics (a pool contest):


Each post-it would be a scene, and then we would decide which scene to keep and grow, and which scene would be saved for another time (yes, sigh, I will be hearing about this holiday all year long).

Jason went off with his writing folder and began working right away.  He is working on honing those writing craft moves…and I am working on my writing teacher craft moves. Together, we are making progress, little by little.

Craft takes time.


#DigiLit Sunday: Coming into focus


Join the #DigilitSunday authors at Margaret Simon’s blog here. This week’s topic is “focus”.


The trees are mostly bare in upstate New York. Everywhere I look, I see new outlines and vistas – the trees in the forest, to use the familiar adage.

This reminded me of my classroom, specifically, my own view of the children in my classroom.  When the school year started,  our classroom felt like a deep forest. So many children to get to know – how to begin to tell them apart? How to get to know the outlines of each individual child amidst the crowd jostling for attention?

By November, each child has emerged distinctly, just like the outlines of the landscape which have come into sharper focus  in the hills and valleys of upstate New York.  Now I know each student: the way one looks when I need to rephrase a question, the way another needs an extra word of encouragement, and how the next sounds when he is anxious.  I know what each likes to read, and where they prefer to write.  I know, just by the way they walk into the room, what I need to do to get us off to a smooth start.

By November, each of my students has come into focus.   The way ahead, in our sixth grade journey, seems just a bit clearer, and we are all glad for that.

Celebrate this week: Making time for work that matters


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


It’s DigiLitSunday.  Margaret Simon asks us to “reflect on Patience. Practice. Persistence” at  Reflections on the Teche today.

Every Friday, we spend some of our writing workshop time listening to short podcasts that connect us to stories from far and wide as part of our “writing to think” work.  Our mission is to open ourselves to issues and experiences that may sometimes fall outside the realm of our own, and to ask ourselves “what if that were me? what if that was my experience? my life?”.

This Friday, I felt pressed for time.  My kids were finishing up the first drafts of their personal narratives, and there was a long list of students who needed writing conferences before the weekend, when they were tasked to type up those first drafts so we could begin revision on Monday.

We also had a read aloud to finish up and a new Social Studies unit to begin.  There is never enough time…I always feel as though I do battle with the school clock  which seems to measure time too quickly.

Even so, I opened the Story Corps podcast I had chosen for us to listen to, and affixed our anchor chart to the board as a writing reference point:


My kiddos began streaming in at 7:30. They went about the business of organizing themselves for the day, as they always do.  Many glanced at the board, saw the chart and said, “Oh, good – were doing this today. I love these!”.

So we made time to listen after all.  My kids, it seemed, felt there was value and purpose in these Friday writing  to think endeavors.

We heard Alex’s story…we wrote…and we shared.  My sixth  graders asked important questions, and they wondered about how they could change the world if they were in charge.  Some day, they will be.

I was glad, then, that we had taken the time to listen with our hearts, and prepare our minds for the work ahead that some day and in our every day, really.  Patience. Practice. Persistence.  Making a better world takes all three.  And I celebrate my kids for their willingness to engage, right now, to write and think their way to that better world.


#DigiLit Sunday & Celebrate this week!: Why I write…

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I’m combining two weekend memes today in celebration of writing:

I was a writer before I was a teacher, and it turns out that nothing has informed my teaching more deeply than this habit of having to write about what I’ve read, thought, and done over the course of a day, week, month, or school year.

I write to shape my thinking about experiences in my classroom: the way my kids learn, and the things I can do to extend and expand upon that learning.  Writing about our classroom life in an honest and open way in my notebooks an on my blog allows me to be a reflective teacher; for, in the process of  examining what went well and what did not, I find a better way to move forward.

I write to notice the world and the way I make my way in it.  A beautiful Fall day, the quiet of our classroom as we work to become better readers and writers, the noisy and spirited conversations that erupt when there are interesting things to talk about…all of these find a way into my writing life.  We can hold onto moments and prolong their joy when we give ourselves the chance to write about them – and so I write to treasure and preserve memories.

I write to become a better writer – to flex my creative muscles as I reach for this or that craft move.  In every blogpost or notebook entry, I find myself trying something new and seeing how it fits my own writing voice.

I write to become a better writing teacher.  Through the act of struggling to formulate cohesive thoughts and write about them in an engaging way, I learn how to teach with greater clarity.  My struggles are my kids’ struggles: what to write about? how should I collect my thoughts and organize them? in what ways can I make my writing interesting so that my readers will want to read my words…and remember them?  Wading through and finding a way through these struggles gives me insight into the writing process, which, in turn, become the seeds for mini lessons and student conferences.

And, most importantly, I write to be mentor to my students – to set an example of what it means to live a writing life.  When I write alongside them, or share something from my writer’s notebook, the implicit message is always this: yes, I know that writing is hard, and often frustrating work…but here’s why it is so worth it, and here’s how we can do this work together.

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